Quanta Decision Illustrates Case Against Specialized Patent Court
from the no-more-federal-circuit dept
I agree with Mike that the Quanta v. LG decision was a big victory for common sense in patent law. I think it's worth taking a step back to note that this is a continuation of the trend that Mike identified last year. This is at least the fourth time in as many years that the Supreme Court has taken a patent law case, and in every case they've overruled a bad decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has jurisdiction over patent appeals. The Federal Circuit has spent the last 15 years making a mess of patent law, and the Supreme Court has finally started to notice and is working to clean up the Federal Circuit's messes. But it's hard because patents are one of a handful of major issues on its docket, whereas the Supreme Court has lots of other subjects it needs to deal with. Even if the Supreme Court continues taking patent cases and smacking down the Federal Circuit every time, it will still take years to undo all the damage the Federal Circuit has done.
The lesson here is that the creation of the Federal Circuit in the early 1980s was a mistake. Before Congress created the court to handle patent cases, patent appeals were handled by the same courts that handled other kinds of appeals. There tends to be a lot more diversity on the normal circuit courts, which helps the judges on the courts to have a better sense of perspective and not see every case as an opportunity to expand patenting. Perhaps more importantly, the competition among circuits made the Supreme Court's job a lot easier. If one circuit wandered off the reservation, other circuits would typically hand down decisions more consistent with Supreme Court precedent, producing what the lawyers call a "circuit split." That would serve as a signal that the Supreme Court needed to step in, and it allowed the high court to simply give its blessing to the circuit whose rulings were closer to the Supreme Court's own thinking. In contrast, the current setup forces the Supreme Court to do a lot of the heavy lifting itself, repeatedly reviewing and overruling Federal Circuit decisions in an effort to establish a better set of precedents. Congress should give the Supreme Court a hand by eliminating the Federal Circuit and restoring jurisdiction over patent appeals to the other circuits. The judges currently on the Federal Circuit should probably be re-assigned to the other circuits, where they can provide helpful advice on the nuances of patent law to their colleagues but won't have enough votes to continue indiscriminately expanding patent law.