A patent gives the patent owner an exclusive right in the subject matter
of the patent. If another person or company makes, uses, sells, offers for sale,
or imports the subject matter of the patent, that other person or company is
said to be infringing on the patent rights of the patent owner. The patent owner
in such a situation may wish to have the infringing conduct stop or may be entitled
to monetary compensation for the infringing conduct. Because the United States
Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has no jurisdiction over a patent once it
issues it does not have any enforcement powers with regard to patent rights,
the ordinary course of action to take against an act of patent infringement is
bring a lawsuit in court. In addition, a non-patent owner who believes that a
patent issued by the USPTO is not valid may bring a lawsuit to challenge the
validity of that patent.
By federal statute, federal district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all lawsuits “arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents.” Not all cases involving patents arise under the patent statute, however; thus, depending upon the exact nature of the dispute, certain cases involving patent questions may be brought in state courts. For example, a lawsuit alleging the breach of a contract that involved a determination of the validity of a patent would be properly brought in a state court because contracts are governed by state law and the question of the validity of the patent is considered a side issue to the main question of whether a contract was breached.
Someone bringing a patent lawsuit must also choose the proper geographical area in which to file the suit. The patent venue statute provides that a patent infringement action may be brought in the federal judicial district in which the alleged infringer resides or where the alleged infringer has committed the alleged acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business. If the alleged infringer is an alien, an infringement lawsuit may be brought in any federal district court. For actions that involve patents in some way but are not infringement actions, the general venue statutes, whether state or federal, would apply.
In patent cases brought in federal district courts, the unsuccessful party may appeal the decision of the district court. All appeals of federal district court decisions in cases arising under federal patent laws are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The United States Supreme Court hears appeals of the decisions of the Court of Appeals, although it has complete discretion as to whether to hear any particular appeal and in fact declines to hear most appeals.