In re Ian P. Coyle, Proc. No. D2016-16 (USPTO Dir. July 27, 2016)

Michael E. McCabe, Jr.Neglect, Other, USPTO

Disposition: ALJ’s initial decision recommending entry of default judgment and practitioner’s exclusion from practice before the USPTO became final Agency decision as a matter of law.  Final decision here.

Summary: A patent attorney was charged with multiple counts of ethical misconduct arising from the abandonment of a client’s patent application and failure to cooperate with the OED’s ethics investigation. After failing to respond to the complaint, an administrative law judge entered an initial decision recommending entry of judgment by default in favor of the OED and proposing that the practitioner be excluded from practice before the USPTO. Because the practitioner failed to appeal, the ALJ’s initial decision became the USPTO’s final decision as a matter of law, and thus the practitioner was excluded.

Related to USPTO Practice?  Yes

Facts: On April 8, 2016, the OED Director filed a two-count Complaint against Dr. Coyle, a patent agent. The complaint stemmed from Dr. Coyle’s neglect of a patent matter and failure to cooperate with the Office of Enrollment and Discipline’s ethics investigation.

Dr. Coyle became a registered patent agent in 2009. In 2015, he represented Dr. Mohammed Alsaidan (“Dr. Alsaidan”) with regard to a prior art search and to prepare and file a patent application for Dr. Alsaidan’s invention for an improved biopsy device. Dr. Alsaidan paid $900 to Dr. Coyle as an advance payment toward their agreed upon $1,800 fee.

On April 29, 2015, Dr. Alsaidan sent an email requesting an update from Dr. Coyle, who did not respond. Over the course of the next several weeks, the client sent multiple emails to the practitioner requesting a status update, only to receive no reply. In addition, the practitioner failed to respond to the client’s telephone messages.

On May 21, 2015, Dr. Alsaidan sent an email requesting a refund of his transferred money if Dr. Coyle was not able to draft a patent application. The practitioner failed to respond to the May 21, 2015 email, nor did he return Dr. Alsaidan’s advance fee. Upon information and belief, the practitioner did not conduct a prior art search and did not prepare a patent application as he had agreed to do on Dr. Alsaidan’s behalf. Based on these facts, it was inferred that Dr. Coyle abandoned Dr. Alsaidan as a client. He failed to return the $900 fee paid in advance to him by Dr. Alsaidan.

On June 15, 2015, the OED mailed to the practitioner a Request for Information and Evidence Under 37 C.F.R. § 11.22(f) (the “RFI”), requesting information regarding Dr. Alsaidan’s grievance. Dr. Coyle failed to respond to the OED’s RFI.

Based upon the foregoing facts, the OED Director filed a disciplinary complaint. Dr. Coyle failed to respond to the complaint. Thereafter, the OED Director filed a motion for default judgment.

The ALJ granted the motion. Based on the facts alleged in the complaint—which were taken as true in light of the default—the ALJ determined that Dr. Coyle violated the following USPTO ethics rules:

First, the ALJ found that Dr. Coyne violated 37 C.F.R. § 11.103 for his neglect, failure to communicate, failure to perform services, and failure to return unearned fees.

In addition, the ALJ found the practitioner failed to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter, by not providing information about the status of the patent legal services for which he was hired to perform, including not responding to numerous telephone calls or emails from the client about the status of the matter, in violation of 37 C.F.R. § 11.104(a)(3) and 37 C.F.R. § 11.104(a)(4).

Furthermore the ALJ found that the practitioner failed to promptly deliver to the client funds that the client is entitled to receive, by not refunding the $900 advance fee paid, in violation of 37 C.F.R. § 11.115(d) and 37 C.F.R. § 11.116(d).

The ALJ still further found that the practitioner had engaged in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, by being dishonest and keeping the $900 fee paid by Dr. Alsaidan in advance without having performed the legal services for which he was paid, in violation of 37 C.F.R. § 11.804(c).”

Still further, the ALJ found that Dr. Coyne violated 37 C.F.R. § 11.801(b) by failing to cooperate in the OED’s investigation. The ALJ also found that the lack of response to the RFI was conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of 37 C.F.R. § 11.804(d).

The ALJ found that the OED Director’s request for exclusion “is fair and appropriate because Respondent violated duties owed to his client and the legal profession; acted knowingly and intentionally caused significant injury to his client, and because there are multiple aggravating factors. In this matter, Respondent took the client’s money, then abandoned him. He failed to return unearned fees to the client. Respondent further ignored the requests of the USPTO and this Court.”

Because the practitioner failed to appeal the initial decision entering default judgment, the ALJ’s order became a final order of the USPTO. Consequently, Dr. Coyne was ordered excluded from practice before the USPTO.