Sunday, January 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Patent Lawyer Can’t Press Suspension Case

(CN) - A patent lawyer accused of taking cases while suspended from the Pennsylvania bar cannot pursue $5 million in FOIA and Privacy Act claims against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a federal judge ruled.

Louis Piccone, an attorney registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, claims the agency, and supervisors at its Office of Enrollment and Discipline, have a "political axe of vengeance" to grind for his efforts to improve state child welfare laws.

The attorney claims the agency's "political vendetta" against him began on Dec. 10, 2014, when it filed a complaint against Piccone for taking on various child welfare cases pro bono, and for prosecuting a trademark application during his period of suspension, which extended from September 2013 to August 2014.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association suspended Piccone's law license after he failed to maintain continuing education requirements, court records indicate.

Piccone filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Dec. 10, 2014, seeking Patent and Trademark Office documents related to the department's disciplinary action against him, but the agency claims its only relevant information was protected from release pending investigation.

The office released 410 pages of documents in its response, none of which satisfied Piccone's request, the attorney claims

Piccone filed an appeal of the agency's decision on Dec. 2, 2014 and after allegedly searching through various spellings of his name in emails, records, a central computer drive and the trademark officer's file sharing cloud, the agency denied his request the very same day.

U.S. District Judge James Cacheris held Piccone failed to support his "facially deficient" claims with any facts beyond a vague assertion that the office "failed to maintain accurate information" by mailing its responses to his Freedom of Information Act request to the incorrect address - an allegation which Cacheris says was never raised in the attorney's original complaint.

The FOIA searches, which included potential misspellings of Piccone's name, was "undeniably thorough," Cacheris wrote, though Piccone argues that none of the searches used his initials or patent bar registration number.

According to Cacheris, Piccone has already initiated an alternative solution to his action by contesting his charges. Even if loses his case, Piccone will still have an opportunity to appeal the outcome of his hearing, Cacheris notes.

"Ultimately, the plaintiff fails in his FOIA action because he has not demonstrated that he can point to anything other than the 'purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents,' which will not be sufficient to defeat the presumption of good faith which follows agency affidavits," Cacheris wrote last week.

"Plaintiff's complaint with regards to his Privacy Act claim is, as with most of the other claims advanced by plaintiff, nothing more than exactly the kind of 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action [which] will not do,'" Cacheris continued.

The federal court also declined to issue an opinion on Piccone's disciplinary action, which is scheduled to be heard this month.

The Patent and Trademark Office has since released more than 1,500 additional pages of documents from Piccone's file which would no longer hinder their investigation, they say.

Piccone told Courthouse News that he was merely helping underprivileged families whose children had been taken by child protective services and that he has done nothing to deserve the agency's disciplinary action.

"I believe all of my actions were completely legal and justified under the circumstances," said Piccone.

By refusing to search his bar registration number in its digitized system, or to release any documents bearing Office of

Enrollment and Discipline Director William Covey's name, Piccone believes that the agency has withheld exculpatory evidence relevant to his case.

"The OED Director was never asked whether he had any documents regarding either the investigation or the prosecution of charges against me," Piccone said. "Without speaking to the only person whom had authority to investigate or prosecute me, any search of USPTO records is per se incomplete and unreasonable."

"As the searches are computer based, it would seemingly take a de minimus time to plug my bar registration number into their hard drive to perform a search. So the question becomes, why are they refusing to conduct such a search?" Piccone asked.

Piccone, who represented himself in the FOIA action, says he was disappointed by the decision and that he believes he has significant grounds for appeal.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.