Sperry v. Florida
373 U.S. 379 (1963)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Sperry v. Florida, 373 U.S. 379 (1963)

Sperry v. Florida ex rel. Florida Bar

No. 322

Argued March 25, 1963

Decided May 27, 1963

373 U.S. 379

Syllabus

Petitioner is not a lawyer, and has never been admitted to the Bar of any State, but, under regulations issued by the Commissioner of Patents with the approval of the Secretary of Commerce pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 31, he has been authorized to practice before the United States Patent Office. As part of that practice, he has for many years represented patent applicants, prepared and prosecuted their applications, and advised them in connection with their applications in the State of Florida. The Florida Bar sued in the Supreme Court of Florida to enjoin the performance of these and other specified acts within the State, contending that they constituted unauthorized practice of law.

Held:

1. Florida may not prohibit petitioner from performing within the State tasks which are incident to the preparation and prosecution of patent applications before the Patent Office. Pp. 373 U. S. 381-402.

(a) The determination of the Supreme Court of Florida that the preparation and prosecution of patent applications for others constitutes the practice of law, within the meaning of the law of that State, is not questioned. P. 373 U. S. 383.

(b) Florida has a substantial interest in regulating the practice of law within the State, and, in the absence of federal legislation on the subject, it could validly prohibit nonlawyers from engaging in this circumscribed form of patent practice. P. 373 U. S. 383.

(c) A federal statute, 35 U.S.C. § 31, expressly permits the Commissioner of Patents to authorize practice before the Patent Office by nonlawyers; the Commissioner has explicitly granted such authority; and Florida may not deny to those failing to meet its own qualifications the right to perform acts within the scope of the federal authority. Pp. 373 U. S. 384-385.

(d) There cannot be read into the federal statute and regulations a condition that such practice must not be inconsistent with state law, thus leaving registered patent practitioners with the unqualified right to practice only in the physical presence of the

Page 373 U. S. 380

Patent Office and in the District of Columbia, where that Office is now located. Pp. 373 U. S. 385-387.

(e) The legislative history of the statute and its predecessor provisions shows that Congress recognized that registration in the Patent Office confers a right to practice before that Office, without regard to whether the State within which the practice is conducted would otherwise prohibit such conduct. Pp. 373 U. S. 387-402.

(f) Since patent practitioners are authorized to practice only before the Patent Office, the State maintains control over the practice of law within its borders except to the limited extent necessary for the accomplishment of the federal objectives. P. 373 U. S. 402.

2. As so construed, 35 U.S.C. § 31 is constitutional. Pp. 373 U. S. 403-404.

(a) By establishing the Patent Office and authorizing competent persons to assist in the preparation of patent applications, Congress has not exceeded the bounds of what is "necessary and proper" to the operation of the patent system established under Art. I, § 8, Ch 8, of the Constitution. P. 373 U. S. 403.

(b) Having acted within the scope of the powers "delegated to the United States by the Constitution," Congress has not exceeded the limits of the Tenth Amendment, despite the concurrent effects of its legislation upon a matter otherwise within the control of the State. P. 373 U. S. 403.

(c) In view of the standards prescribed in 35 U.S.C. § 31 to guide the Patent Office in its admissions policy, it cannot be said that Congress has improperly delegated its powers to the administrative agency. Pp. 373 U. S. 403-404.

140 So.2d 587, judgment vacated and cause remanded.

Page 373 U. S. 381

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