The Patent Pilot Program Takes Off Around the Country

Patent litigation has some eccentricities that, some say, require special attention in the court system. One historical effort to address this was the creation of the Federal Circuit in 1982 and the exclusive jurisdiction it possesses to hear patent litigation appeals from all district courts around the nation. This exclusive jurisdiction based on subject matter and not geographic location is fairly unique in the judicial system. Patent litigation often involves complex technical issues to determine patent invalidity and infringement, unique procedural devices (e.g. Markman hearings), and intricate legal issues with technical and economic underpinnings (inequitable conduct, price erosion, lost profits, etc.). For these reasons, patent litigants often prefer to have an experienced judge hear and manage the dispute so that the fairest outcome is had. To address and analyze these and other issues, on January 4, 2011, Congress created the “Patent Pilot Program.”

The Patent Pilot Program is a 10-year project designed to determine whether changes are needed in the way Courts resolve patent disputes due to the complexities, both technical and procedural, unique to patent related disputes. In the Patent Pilot Program, participating district courts will select a group of judges to hear patent cases. It is intended that these designated patent judges will hear the majority of the patent cases filed in their jurisdiction. When a patent case is initially filed in the participating district, it will be randomly assigned to all judges in the district, regardless of whether they have been specially designated to hear patent cases. If that judge was not specially designated as a patent judge, that judge can either accept or decline the patent case. If the case is declined, the case is then randomly assigned to one of the designated “patent” judges. One aim of the program is to specially train certain judges to hear and manage patent cases and to study the differences in reversal rates and disposition times between the “patent” and “non-patent” judges.

The Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management is responsible for running the pilot program. The Chief Judge of each participating court with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Director of the Federal Judicial Center will periodically deliver status reports to Congress on whether the participating court has developed expertise and improved efficiencies in patent cases and whether the court has seen more or less patent cases since participating in the Pilot Program.

The fourteen courts that are participating in the program are:

Eastern District of New York
Southern District of New York
Western District of Pennsylvani
District of New Jersey
District of Maryland
Northern District of Illinois
Southern District of Florida
District of Nevada
Eastern District of Texas
Northern District of Texas
Western District of Tennessee
Central District of California
Northern District of California
Southern District of California

Certain courts have selected their “patent” judges and provided details on the program. Click on the links below for more information

The Northern District of Illinois
The District of New Jersey
The Southern District of New York
Northern District of Texas

While it is obviously too early to determine whether the Program is meeting its goals, many feel this initiative is a positive step toward ensuring patent litigants receive a fair and effective resolution to legitimate patent disputes.

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