TTAB Denies Motion to Strike Late-Filed Final Brief
In TTAB proceedings, the defendant sometimes gets confused as to when to file its brief at final hearing. Rule 2.128 says that the defendant's brief is due to be filed "not later than thirty days after the due date of the first brief." The first brief (i.e., plaintiff's brief) is due 60-days after the date set for the close of rebuttal testimony. If plaintiff's brief is served by mail, does defendant get an extra five days to file its brief under Rule 2.119(c)? No. Rule 2.119(c) is inapplicable to briefing deadlines. This point came to play in a recently ruling in Promark Brands Inc. and H.J. Heinz Company v. GFA Brands, Inc., Opposition No. 91194974. The Board, in this order, set a side the interlocutory attorney's order that had stricken defendant GFA's trial brief because it was filed six days late.
GFA mistakenly believed that Rule 2.119(c) applied, giving it five extra days to file its brief. Then it ran into problems e-filing its brief. It filed the brief at 11:10 p.m. Central Time, which was 12:10 a.m. Eastern Time. [ESTTA filing are subject to Eastern Time].
The interlocutory attorney granted Promark's motion to strike GFA's brief. GFA petitioned to the Director, which kicked the matter back to the Board for reconsideration of the interlocutory attorney's ruling. Meanwhile, GFA had requested oral argument and, in light of the order striking its brief, had asked for an extra 15 minutes to argue its case. [The case is set for oral argument at the Fordham IP Institute on April 25th (here)].
The Board noted that the time for filing GFA's brief was set by operation of Rule 2.128 and not by the date of service of Promark's brief, and so Rule 2.119(c) did not apply.
The Board looked to the Supreme Court's Pioneer decision (Pioneer Inv. Serv. Co. v. Brunswick Assoc. Ltd., 507 U.S. 380 (1993)), a five-to-four ruling, "which underscores that the question whether neglect of a matter is excusable is not easily or predictably answered." Such questions "necessarily must be left to resolution by exercise of the discretion of the Board."
The Board found no clear error in the interlocutory attorney's weighing the third Pioneer factor (the reason for the delay and whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant) heavily against GFA. Nor was there error in weighing the second factor (the length of the delay) "somewhat" against GFA.
Nonetheless, the Board may exercise its discretion to considered the additional circumstances that are "significant" in this case. The Board warned, however, that its ruling here is "based solely on the particular facts of the case, and should not be taken as an indication that a similar result would be attainable in another case that differs in any particular fact or circumstance."
The Board observed that having a full set of briefs prior to oral argument enhances the quality of the argument and may suggest issues that the Board panel should consider in its deliberations. Another factor concerned GFA's mistaken reliance on Rule 2.119(c). Similar mistaken reliance has occurred in other Board cases. The Board noted that the TBMP, in the section concerning the time for filing defendant's main brief, makes no reference to the inapplicability of Rule 2.119(c). [The Board suggested that a change to the Rules be considered, to incorporate clarifying language or cross-referencing regarding the interplay of these two Rules].
The Board therefore set aside the order striking Defendant GFA's brief. It denied the request for additional time for argument as moot.
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TTABlog note: Recently, in Pepsico, Inc. v. Jay Pirincci, Opposition No. 91187023 (April 14, 2014) [not precedential], the Board denied opposer's motion to strike applicant's brief that was filed one day late. Although the delay was unjustified, it was minimal in duration, caused no prejudice to opposer, had little impact on the proceeding, and apparently was not the result of bad faith.
Text Copyright John L. Welch 2014.