Academic journal article American University Business Law Review

Stare Indecisis: The Federal Circuit’s En Banc Battle against Itself and Business in Lighting Ballast Control, Llc V. Philips Electronics North America Corp

Academic journal article American University Business Law Review

Stare Indecisis: The Federal Circuit’s En Banc Battle against Itself and Business in Lighting Ballast Control, Llc V. Philips Electronics North America Corp

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Mark Twain wrote "a country without a patent office and good patent laws is just a crab and [cannot] travel any way but sideways and backwards."1 Patents today play a vital role for businesses by giving a right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.2 Historically, courts exclusively construed the meaning of patent claims as a matter of law.3 The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over all appeals from district courts on patent claim construction cases.4 In Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, an en banc decision, the Federal Circuit held that when it reviews a patent claim construction case, the standard of review is de novo.5 This standard of review was controversial since its establishment; however, until this year, neither Congress nor the Supreme Court had intervened to confirm or challenge the standard.6

Momentum eventually built to the point where in 2013 a new en banc case challenged the Federal Circuit's de novo standard.7 This challenge was significant because it presented the first opportunity for the en banc Federal Circuit to reconsider the de novo standard since declining to do so in the 2005 Phillips v. A WH Corp. case.8 The opportunity for en banc review of an established en banc standard without prior intervention is unique to the Federal Circuit as the Supreme Court has historically played a "hands-off" role with the Federal Circuit regarding patent cases.9 Flowever, this opportunity for reconsideration posed a problem because it clashes with the fundamental legal principle of stare decisis.10 Stare decisis instructs courts to respect previous decisions absent intervention from a higher authority thereby ensuring uniformity in the law.11

This Comment argues that by taking the Lighting Ballast case en banc to reconsider the established Cybor en banc standard, the Federal Circuit is acting contrary to the principles of stare decisis because the panel decision already affirmed the validity of Cybor by applying it.12 While stare decisis is not black letter law for the courts, the Federal Circuit was specifically created with the purpose of ensuring uniformity in patent law.13 Therefore, the risk of uncertainty for patent law as a whole exists when the Federal Circuit is not acting in a manner that promotes uniformity, which, in turn, negatively affects business interests.14

Part I of this Comment discusses the basics of patent litigation, patent claim construction, and the history of the standard of review through Lighting Ballast as well as the influence of stare decisis and uniformity in patent cases.

Part П of this Comment analyzes stare decisis in Lighting Ballast. Furthermore, it analyzes the proper interplay between the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit and the reliance on the expertise of the Federal Circuit in patent law.

Part in recommends that the Supreme Court intervene to eliminate debate by determining when the Federal Circuit can review en banc cases with other en banc decisions.

This Comment concludes that the Federal Circuit is in a unique situation with the claim construction standard of review because it lacked guidance from a higher authority for over fifteen years, but that stare decisis must weigh heavily on a court created to promote consistency.

I. DECONSTRUCTING THE INFLUENCE OF STARE DECISIS, PATENT CLAIM CONSTRUCTION, AND THE COSTS OF PATENT LITIGATION.

Stare decisis has a long and rich history in the American legal system Patent litigation can often carry a value of millions and even billions of dollars. Patent claim construction is a fundamental concept in patent law that is necessary in any patent litigation. Understanding each of these concepts in basic terms is the key to understanding the disconnect between the Federal Circuit and its Constitutional role.

A.To Stand by Things Decided: The Role of Stare Decisis in the American Legal System.

Stare decisis, also known as the doctrine of precedent, is intended to bind courts to previous decisions absent intervention from a higher authority. …

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