University of Southern California

Toward Certainty and Uniformity in Patent Infringement Cases after Festo and Markman: A Proposal for a Specialized Patent Trial Court with a Rule of Greater Deference

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Note by Gregory J. Wallace
From Volume 77, Number 6 (September, 2004)

The increasingly complex technology involved in patent infringement cases has lead many to question the ability of district court judges and jurors in such cases to issue uniform and predictable decisions. In fact, there is evidence that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals – the appellate court with sole jurisdiction and accumulated expertise in patent law – routinely overrules district court decisions regarding claim construction and prosecution history estoppel under the doctrine of equivalents. Given the frequency with which the Federal Circuit overturns district court decisions, and the fact that nearly every patent infringement case involves a dispute over claim construction or prosecution history estoppel under the doctrine of equivalents, patent infringement cases are typically uncertain until after appeal.

The uncertainty of patent infringement cases until after appeal is highly problematic for several reasons. First, uncertainty at the trial level is inefficient because it stimulates appeals rather than settlements. Second, it “creates doubt about the ability of district court judges to adjudicate complex technical patent [infringement] cases.” Finally, this uncertainty may even have the far-reaching effect of stifling innovation. Thus, the current system of adjudication for patent infringement trials is in need of reform, and a specialized patent trial court combined with a rule of greater deference appears to be the most effective means for bringing needed certainty to patent infringement trials.

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