In the field of U.S. intellectual property (IP) law, there are often references to the Federal Circuit. What is the Federal Circuit? This brief article will explain it.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or “Federal Circuit” for short, is a U.S. Federal appeals court. It hears cases appealed from various places including U.S. federal district courts and certain Federal agencies including the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) and the International Trade Commission (ITC). It was created in 1982. It replaced and merged the prior U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the U.S. Court of Claims, which no longer exist.
What makes the Federal Circuit rather unique is that it has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction for certain types of cases. (28 U.S.C. § 1295). In general, appeals in Federal cases are made to regional circuit courts. That is, federal appeals courts are mostly divided into geographic “circuits”. They hear appeals from lower (district) courts within their respective geographic areas. But, instead, the Federal Circuit hears appeals from any district court in the country relating to patents and certain other matters, as well as appeals from certain executive branch agencies.
In particular, the Federal Circuit has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal cases involving patents, plant variety protection, trademark registrations, government contracts, veterans’ benefits, public safety officers’ benefits, federal employees’ benefits, and various other types of cases. Appeals involving Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (TTAB) and Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) decisions and patent and trademark prosecution (that is, cases related to the examination and granting of patents and trademark registrations) all go to the Federal Circuit. There are some exceptions, however. Cases involving assignments of patents may go to a regional circuit court instead. Trademark infringement matters are appealed from district courts to regional circuits, not to the Federal Circuit.
Because of the number of patent and trademark cases it hears, and its exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving U.S. patent laws, the Federal Circuit is important to know about in order to understand IP law in the United States. Federal Circuit opinions and orders (i.e., decisions in individual cases) can be found here, or via proprietary case reporter publications and databases.
Austen Zuege is an attorney at law and registered U.S. patent attorney in Minneapolis whose practice encompasses patents, trademarks, copyrights, domain name cybersquatting, IP agreements and licensing, freedom-to-operate studies, client counseling, and IP litigation. If you have patent, trademark, or other IP issues, he can help.