Monday, April 16, 2018

Comprehensive Data about Federal Circuit Opinions

Jason Rantanen (Iowa) has already blogged about his new article, but I thought I would mention it briefly has well. He has created a database of data about Federal Circuit opinions. An article describing it is forthcoming in the American University Law Reviw on SSRN and the abstract is here:
Quantitative studies of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's patent law decisions are almost more numerous than the judicial decisions they examine. Each study painstakingly collects basic data about the decisions-case name, appeal number, judges, precedential status-before adding its own set of unique observations. This process is redundant, labor-intensive, and makes cross-study comparisons difficult, if not impossible. This Article and the accompanying database aim to eliminate these inefficiencies and provide a mechanism for meaningful cross-study comparisons.

This Article describes the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions ("Compendium"), a database created to both standardize and analyze decisions of the Federal Circuit. The Compendium contains an array of data on all documents released on the Federal Circuit's website relating to cases that originated in a federal district court or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)-essentially all opinions since 2004 and all Rule 36 affirmances since 2007, along with numerous orders and other documents.

This Article draws upon the Compendium to examine key metrics of the Federal Circuit's decisions in appeals arising from the district courts and USPTO over the past decade, updating previous work that studied similar populations during earlier time periods and providing new insights into the Federal Circuit's performance. The data reveal, among other things, an increase in the number of precedential opinions in appeals arising from the USPTO, a general increase in the quantity-but not necessarily the frequency-with which the Federal Circuit invokes Rule 36, and a return to general agreement among the judges following a period of substantial disuniformity. These metrics point to, on the surface at least, a Federal Circuit that is functioning smoothly in the post-America Invents Act world, while also hinting at areas for further study.
The article has some interesting details about opinions and trends, but I wanted to point out that this is a database now available for use in scholarly work, which is really helpful. The inclusion of non-precedential opinions adds a new wrinkle as well. Hopefully some useful studies will come of this

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Statute v. Constitution as IP Limiting Doctrine

In his forthcoming article, "Paths or Fences: Patents, Copyrights, and the Constitution," Derek Bambauer (Arizona), notices (and provides some data to support) a discrepancy in how boundary and limiting issues are handled in patent and copyright. He notes that, for reasons he theorizes, big copyright issues are often "fenced in" by the Constitution - that is the constitution limits what can be protected. But patent issues are often resolved by statute, because the Constitution creates a "path" which Congress may follow. Thus, he notes, we have two types of IP emanating from the same source, but treated differently for unjustifiable reasons.

The article is forthcoming in Iowa Law Review, and is posted on SSRN. The abstract is here:
Congressional power over patents and copyrights flows from the same constitutional source, and the doctrines have similar missions. Yet the Supreme Court has approached these areas from distinctly different angles. With copyright, the Court readily employs constitutional analysis, building fences to constrain Congress. With patent, it emphasizes statutory interpretation, demarcating paths the legislature can follow, or deviate from (potentially at its constitutional peril). This Article uses empirical and quantitative analysis to show this divergence. It offers two potential explanations, one based on entitlement strength, the other grounded in public choice concerns. Next, the Article explores border cases where the Court could have used either fences or paths, demonstrating the effects of this pattern. It sets out criteria that the Court should employ in choosing between these approaches: countermajoritarian concerns, institutional competence, pragmatism, and avoidance theory. The Article argues that the key normative principle is that the Court should erect fences when cases impinge on intellectual property’s core constitutional concerns – information disclosure for patent and information generation for copyright. It concludes with two examples where the Court should alter its approach based on this principle.
The article is an interesting theory piece that has some practical payoff.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Tun-Jen Chiang: Can Patents Restrict Free Speech?

Guest post by Jason Reinecke, a 3L at Stanford Law School whose work has been previously featured on this blog.

Scholars have long argued that copyright and trademark law have the potential to violate the First Amendment right to free speech. But in Patents and Free Speech (forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal), Professor Tun-Jen Chiang explains that patents can similarly restrict free speech, and that they pose an even greater threat to speech than copyrights and trademarks because patent law lacks the doctrinal safeguards that have developed in that area.

Professor Chiang convincingly argues that patents frequently violate the First Amendment and provides numerous examples of patents that could restrict speech. For example, he uncovered one patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,311,211) claiming a “method of operating an advocacy network” by “sending an advocacy message” to various users. He argues that such “advocacy emails are core political speech that the First Amendment is supposed to protect. A statute or regulation that prohibited groups from sending advocacy emails would be a blatant First Amendment violation.”

Perhaps the strongest counterargument to the conclusion that patents often violate free speech is that private enforcement of property rights is generally not subject to First Amendment scrutiny, because the First Amendment only applies to acts of the government, not private individuals. Although Professor Chiang has previously concluded that this argument largely justifies copyright law’s exemption from the First Amendment, he does not come to the same conclusion for patent law for two reasons.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Masur & Mortara on Prospective Patent Decisions

Judicial patent decisions are retroactive. When the Supreme Court changed the standard for assessing obviousness in 2007 with KSR v. Teleflex, it affected not just patents filed after 2007, but also all of the existing patents that had been filed and granted under a different legal standard—upsetting existing reliance interests. But in a terrific new article, Patents, Property, and Prospectivity (forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review), Jonathan Masur and Adam Mortara argue that it doesn't have to be this way, and that in some cases, purely prospective patent changes make more sense.

As Masur and Mortara explain, retroactive changes might have benefits in terms of imposing an improved legal rule, but these changes also have social costs. Most notably, future innovators may invest less in R&D because they realize that they will not be able to rely on the law preserving their future patent rights. (Note that the private harm to existing reliance interests from past innovators is merely a wealth transfer from the public's perspective; the social harm comes from future innovators.) Moreover, courts may be less likely to implement improvements in patent law from the fear of upsetting reliance interests. Allowing courts to choose to make certain changes purely prospectively would ameliorate these concerns, and Masur and Mortara have a helpful discussion of how judges already do this in the habeas context.

The idea that judges should be able to make prospective patent rulings (and prospective judicial rulings more generally, outside habeas cases) seems novel and nonobvious and right, and I highly recommend the article. But I had lots of thoughts while reading about potential ways to further strengthen the argument: