Jurisdiction and Procedure in Patent Disputes

A patent gives the patent owner the right to exclude
others from 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,
they are said to infringe the patent. If this occurs,
the patent owner may elect to stop the infringer
or may seek compensation for the infringing activities.
Typically these actions are brought in a lawsuit
in federal court. The United States Patent and Trademark
Office (USPTO) has neither jurisdiction over a patent
once it issues nor has any enforcement powers with
regard to patent rights. In addition, a party who
believes that a patent issued by the USPTO is not
valid may bring a federal 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.

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