Next week, FedCircuitBlog, in conjunction with the Tsai Center for Law, Science and Innovation at SMU Dedman School of Law, will be hosting its third online symposium. Entitled “Patent Law and Institutional Choice,” this symposium will explore the latest major controversies, legal developments, and judicial decisions in the field of patent law through panel presentations and discussions with distinguished academics. In particular, the symposium will explore the institutional structure of the U.S. patent system and the roles of its institutions: the U.S. Congress; U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; federal district courts and juries; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; and the U.S. Supreme Court. Confronting critiques of this structure and these institutions, this symposium will consider how the U.S. patent system may be improved to further the innovation economy. After SMU hosts three online discussion panels on Friday, October 29, Fed Circuit Blog will later publish written contributions from each panelist. Here is more information on the symposium, including its topics and speakers and how to register to attend the online discussion panels.
This morning the Federal Circuit announced revised protocols for in-person arguments that apply starting with the court’s September 2021 hearings, which begin on Monday, August 30. Notably, compared to the protocols issued in June, the court reduced the number of non-arguing attendees from two to one per arguing counsel; the court adjusted the protocols to require vaccinated individuals to wear masks in the court building; and now, “[t]o enter the courtroom, counsel and attendees will be required to attest to the fact that they are fully vaccinated or have received a negative COVID19 test administered within the prior 48 hours.” Here is the text of this morning’s announcement, with links to the revised protocols and related documents.
Last Friday the Federal Circuit sua sponte vacated its June 30, 2021 panel decision in Taylor v. McDonough, a veterans case asking whether a veteran was entitled to an earlier effective date for his benefits due to restraints on his ability to disclose his participation in “chemical agent exposure studies at the Edgewood Arsenal in Edgewood, Maryland (Edgewood Program).” The Federal Circuit also granted en banc review of the case. According to Friday’s order, the en banc court will consider whether application of the doctrine of equitable estoppel to provide the veteran with the earlier effective date violates the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause and, conversely, whether denial of the earlier effective date violates the constitutional right-of-access doctrine. Here are the details.
The U.S. Court’s website reveals that Federal Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley plans to retire from the bench on March 11, 2022. Judge O’Malley has served as a Federal Circuit judge for over ten years and, given her past experience as a federal district judge, as a federal judge for over twenty-six years. Notably, when paired with Judge Wallach’s taking senior status this past May, Judge O’Malley’s retirement may mean that the Federal Circuit will not have any active judge with prior experience as a trial judge. That said, coming on the heels of Tiffany Cunningham’s confirmation vote last week, Judge O’Malley’s retirement will provide President Biden with his second opportunity to appoint a judge to the Federal Circuit, and perhaps President Biden will seek an experienced district judge to fill Judge O’Malley’s position.
This evening the United States Senate voted 63-33 to confirm Tiffany P. Cunningham’s nomination to the Federal Circuit. Once she receives her commission, she will make history by becoming the first African American judge on the Federal Circuit. As we have highlighted, she will join the court with prior experience as a law clerk at the Federal Circuit with Judge Dyk. She is a registered patent attorney with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and nearly two decades of experience as a patent litigator with Perkins Coie in Chicago.
This morning the Supreme Court issued its decision in Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc., a patent case reviewing the Federal Circuit’s approach to the doctrine of assignor estoppel. In a 5-4 split decision, the Court vacated and remanded the Federal Circuit’s judgment. In a majority opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court held that the Federal Circuit “was right to uphold” the doctrine but “failed to recognize the doctrine’s proper limits.” Here is a brief summary of the Court’s holding with quotations from Justice Kagan’s opinion as well as from dissenting opinions authored by Justices Alito and Barrett.
Federal Circuit Issues Notice of Modifications to Court Operations and New Protocols for In-Person Arguments
This morning the Federal Circuit announced that starting August 30, for the first time since the onset of the pandemic more than a year ago, it will hold in-person oral arguments. Indeed, the court has indicated that every argument will be scheduled to occur in person, but that the court will entertain motions for leave to appear remotely in appropriate circumstances. The court issued protocols for these in-person arguments, along with an indication of appropriate bases for obtaining permission to appear remotely. Notably, the protocols highlight “the court’s strong preference for in-person argument, based on the court’s experience of its distinctive value.” Case in point: the court has indicated that, even if one side to an appeal gains permission to appear remotely, the other side will not be excused from appearing in person. Moreover, for the first time the court has opted to use videoconferencing (rather than audioconferencing) for remote appearances “unless the court directs otherwise.” Here are highlights from the protocols along with the text of today’s announcement.
Breaking News – Supreme Court Agrees PTAB’s Authority Violates Appointments Clause, Remands for USPTO Director to Determine Whether to Grant Rehearing
This morning the Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Circuit that the statutory authority given to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board violates the Appointments Clause. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the Federal Circuit as to the appropriate remedy given this violation. According to the Supreme Court, both the constitutional violation and the appropriate remedy relate to the lack of statutory authority for the Director of the USPTO, a principal officer of the United States nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, to decide whether to grant rehearing with respect to the underlying inter partes review proceeding. Here is a brief summary of the Court’s holding in United States v. Arthrex, Inc.; Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc.; and Smith & Nephew, Inc. v. Arthrex, Inc., along with language from the Court’s controlling opinion.
Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-6 in favor of President Biden’s nomination of Tiffany P. Cunningham to the Federal Circuit. As a result, her nomination has advanced to the full Senate and has been placed on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.