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attorney/agent-client confidentiality

All registered patent practitioners are bound by the duty to preserve privileged information in confidence.  This duty is an ethical “Cannon,” or pillar, of conduct under penalty of strict disciplinary rules.  The relevant sections of Title 37 - Code of Federal Regulations Patents (Aug. 2001) are cited below for you review. 

§ 10.20 Canons and Disciplinary Rules.

(a) Canons are set out in §§ 10.21, 10.30, 10.46, 10.56, 10.61, 10.76, 10.83, 10.100, and 10.110. Canons are statements of axiomatic norms, expressing in general terms the standards of professional conduct expected of practitioners in their relationships with the public, with the legal system, and with the legal profession.

(b) Disciplinary Rules are set out in §§ 10.22- 10.24, 10.31-10.40, 10.47-10.57, 10.62-10.68, 10.77, 10.78, 10.84, 10.85, 10.87-10.89, 10.92, 10.93, 10.101-10.103, 10.111, and 10.112. Disciplinary Rules are mandatory in character and state the minimum level of conduct below which no practitioner can fall without being subjected to disciplinary action. 

§ 10.56 Canon 4.

A practitioner should preserve the confidences and secrets of a client. 

§ 10.57 Preservation of confidences and secrets of

a client.

(a) “Confidence” refers to information protected by the attorney-client or agent-client privilege under applicable law. “Secret” refers to other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client.

(b) Except when permitted under paragraph (c) of this section, a practitioner shall not knowingly:

(1) Reveal a confidence or secret of a client.

(2) Use a confidence or secret of a client to the disadvantage of the client.

(3) Use a confidence or secret of a client for the advantage of the practitioner or of a third person, unless the client consents after full disclosure.

(c) A practitioner may reveal:

(1) Confidences or secrets with the consent of the client affected but only after a full disclosure to the client.

(2) Confidences or secrets when permitted under Disciplinary Rules or required by law or court order.

(3) The intention of a client to commit a crime and the information necessary to prevent the crime.

(4) Confidences or secrets necessary to establish or collect the practitioner’s fee or to defend the practitioner or the practitioner’s employees or associates against an accusation of wrongful conduct.

(d) A practitioner shall exercise reasonable care to prevent the practitioner’s employees, associates, and others whose services are utilized by the practitioner from disclosing or using confidences or secrets of a client, except that a practitioner may reveal the information allowed by paragraph (c) of this section through an employee. 

[Added 50 FR 5178, Feb. 6, 1985, effective Mar. 8,1985]


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