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USA patent courts and appeals

About patent courts
and appeals in:

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This article describes which bodies handle approval, rejection, and disputes of patent validity in the USA.

The stages of litigation

  • When you sue someone for patent infringement, the validity of the patent can be called into question, and this litigation is in a District Court
    • When suing someone, you might also apply to the International Trade Commission to have imports of their products blocked
      • Decisions by the ITC can be appealed to the CAFC.[1]

  • To contest the district court's ruling, you go to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC)
    • Cases are heard by a "panel" with three judges
    • Sometimes cases are heard "en banc, by the entire court:
      • This can happen when a party poses a question to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court can send it back to the CAFC for an en banc hearing
      • TO BE CHECKED: Can the CAFC also decide for itself to hear a case en banc, for important cases where the CAFC wants to set a clear precedent?
  • To contest the CAFC's ruling, you can apply to the Supreme Court (sometimes abbreviated "SCOTUS")
    • This is called applying for certiorari
  • If the Supreme Court grants certiorari, they will rule on it with the highest authority of the USA
    • Alternatively, as mentioned above, the Supreme Court might send the case back to the CAFC for an en banc hearing
    • If the Supreme Court denies certiorari, then the CAFC's ruling stands. This does not mean the Supreme Court endorses the CAFC's ruling, but is often interpreted in that way

Hierarchy and vacating lower rulings

When the Supreme Court gives its opinion on a case, not only does this opinion override the opinion of the lower court, but the Supreme Court can also issue a "grant-vacate-remand order" to nullify certain other rulings of lower courts which may give turn out differently in the light of the Supreme Court's newer ruling.

For example, in the 2009 Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. case the CAFC upheld a patent, saying that it passed the machine-or-transformation test.[2] (The US Supreme Court took the case in 2012 and disagreed.) After tweaking that test in 2010 in the Bilski v. Kappos ruling, the Supreme Court vacated the CAFC's 2009 Mayo ruling and ordered a retrial.[3] (In the retrial, the CAFC reached the same conclusion; the Supreme Court then agreed to hear the Mayo case.)

A Supreme Court ruling not only overrides the preceding CAFC ruling, but the Supreme Court can also vacate other court rulings of lower courts that may

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Abbreviated FRCP.

12(b)(6): motion for quick dismissal

Rule 12(b)(6) can be used by a defendant to file a motion for dismissal.

This was successfully done in the case Uniloc v. Red Hat and Rackspace (2013, USA), where the judge agreed that Uniloc's patent was clearly invalid and there was thus no grounds for a court case.[4]

Judge's titles

At the ITC: administrative law judge

At the CAFC: Circuit Judge NAME

At the Supreme Court: Justice NAME

Terminology and procedures

  • Summary judgment: a pre-trial judgement on whether the case has merit (is worth taking) (see: Wikipedia)
  • Judgment as a matter of law (JMOL): like a summary judgement, but during trial (see: Wikipedia)

Related pages on ESP Wiki

External links