Summary:

A “rogue” appeals court hears every patent appeal in the land — and keeps on getting it wrong. The Supreme Court stepped in once again this week to clean up the mess.

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photo: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

There are many explanations for the sorry state of the U.S. patent system, but one that comes up on a regular basis is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The pro-patent proclivity of the court, which hears every patent appeal in the land, has given it a “rogue” reputation and forced the Supreme Court to reverse its decisions again and again. This week, the Supremes did so once more.

In a 9-0 unanimous decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the appeals court botched things anew, this time over the level of proof that a licensee must bring to challenge a patent. The nuts-and-bolts of the decision turn on procedural issues, but the gist is that it’s now easier for those targeted by patent lawsuits to file a preliminary challenge to accusations of infringement. (You can get a full run-down at Patently-O and SCOTUSblog.)

The procedural issue is important because, under the current system, patent holders — including trolls — can simply file a bare-bones lawsuit without explaining why their target is infringing the patent. Now, under the new Supreme Court ruling, the patent holder will at least have the burden of showing infringement. Congress, meanwhile, is also attempting to tighten up pleading requirements as part of the Innovation Act, a new law expected to pass this spring.

As patent reform advocates point out, this week’s ruling is just one in a series of unanimous reversals of the Federal Circuit’s patent positions. Meanwhile, the patent court’s recalcitrant judges could receive another scolding this spring when the Supreme Court hears a key case over what can and can’t be patented.

Finally, the new boss of the U.S. Patent Office this week published an inaugural blog post that expressed support for Congress’s efforts to reform “abusive patent litigation tactics.”

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