- Randy May, The Free State Foundation
October 4th will mark the first day of oral arguments for the 2016 Supreme Court term. The Court's docket already includes major cases involving insider trading, the Fourth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, criminal law, IP and patent law, the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses, the Fair Housing Act, and voting rights.
The full list of cases granted thus far for the upcoming term can be viewed on SCOTUSblog here. The panelists will also discuss the current composition and the future of the Court.
This event was held on September 27, 2016, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
National Press Club
The America Invents Act (AIA) significantly affects the Constitutional separation of powers by creating a new inter partes review (IPR) regime for challenging an issued patent under an Article II Executive Branch entity, the Patent Trials and Appeals Board (PTAB). In practice, the PTAB has become an alternative forum for accused infringers to attack patent claims with less risk and expense than in U.S. federal district courts. Combined with the reluctance and sometime refusal of Article III courts (including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit) to exert authority over final application of patent law, the statutory adjudicative powers given PTAB judges give rise to separation of powers issues.
As a result, patents that have successfully overcome validity challenges in a “final judgment” of a court are now subjected to double jeopardy in the PTAB, and those valuable but limited patent property rights can be challenged and taken away entirely within an Article II administrative forum. At least two cases pending cert before the U.S. Supreme Court challenge provisions of the AIA on separation of power bases (Cooper v. Lee and MCM Portfolio LLC v. Hewlett-Packard Co.), while another (Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee) challenging the differences between the PTAB’s and the courts’ claim construction regimes has already been decided. In Cuozzo, the Court upheld the PTAB/USPTO’s application of a different claim construction standard from the courts, tipping the scales against patentees who face a validity challenge during IPRs as compared against in federal district court. Critics of the AIA rules –and particularly IPRs– as applied by the USPTO/PTAB assert that they weaken patents and the patent system, and undermine the incentives for innovation that have driven economic growth for much of this country’s history. This teleforum will include a discussion of the Constitutional challenges to the AIA’s patent review provisions, including the Court’s hints in Cuozzo that it is aware of other Constitutional issues.
On June 16, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons. Academic textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (Wiley) owns the American copyright for textbooks and often assigns its rights to its foreign subsidiaries to publish, print, and sell its textbooks abroad. Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai citizen who came to the United States in 1997 to study mathematics, asked friends and family in Thailand to buy the English-language versions of his textbooks in Thailand, where they were cheaper and mail them to him. Kirtsaeng would then sell these textbooks in America, reimburse his friends and family, and make a profit.
In 2008, Wiley sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement. He ultimately prevailed before the U.S. Supreme Court on the question whether the “first sale” doctrine--under which the owner of a “lawfully made” copy can dispose of it without permission of the copyright owner--applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad. On remand, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the “first sale” doctrine provided Kirstaeng with a complete defense to Wiley’s infringement claim. Kirtsaeng thereafter sought an award of attorneys’ fees pursuant to Section 505 of the Copyright Act, which allows the award of fees to a prevailing party at the court’s discretion. The federal Courts of Appeals have applied several different standards in resolving such fee requests. Here, the Second Circuit affirmed the denial of attorneys’ fees to Kirtsaeng based on the district court’s view that Wiley had taken an “objectively reasonable” position in the underlying litigation.
The U.S. Supreme Court again granted certiorari, to address the following question: What is the appropriate standard for awarding attorneys’ fees to a prevailing party under section 505 of the Copyright Act?
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that (1) when deciding whether to award attorney's fees under the Copyright Act’s fee-shifting provision, a district court should give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party's position, while still taking into account all other circumstances relevant to granting fees; and (2) while the Second Circuit properly calls for district courts to give "substantial weight" to the reasonableness of a losing party's litigating positions, its language at times suggests that a finding of reasonableness raises a presumption against granting fees, and that goes too far in cabining the district court's analysis.
To discuss the case, we have Christopher M. Newman, who is Associate Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law.