The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded its first trip to New York City in a decade by hearing oral arguments in four patent cases at Fordham Law School on Thursday, Oct. 5.
Circuit Judges Alan D. Lourie, Kathleen M. O’Malley, and Richard G. Taranto presided over the appeals in the morning before participating in a Q&A session moderated by Fordham Law Professor Hugh C. Hansen, director of the Fordham Intellectual Property Law Institute. Based in Washington, D.C., the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has national jurisdiction on numerous legal areas, including patents and trademarks, veteran’s issues, and international trade.
In his welcoming remarks, Fordham Law Dean Matthew Diller highlighted the court’s visit as the latest in a proud tradition of federal courts convening at the Law School in recent years and celebrated Fordham’s longstanding leadership in the intellectual property arena.
“I find it especially fitting that a court focused on IP should be at our Law School,” Diller said, punctuating the remark with praise for Fordham’s highly rated Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property and Information Law Clinic, the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP), and the Fordham IP Conference, which attracts officials, judges, and scholars from across the globe.
Federal statutes enable the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to sit anywhere in the country, noted Judge Lourie, who then-President George H.W. Bush appointed to the court in 1990. The court convenes once per year outside Washington. Seven judges from the federal court made the trip to New York for three days of court sessions.
Oral arguments inside Fordham’s Gorman Moot Courtroom included appeals involving the patentability of dual-action luggage locks—designed to accommodate the TSA’s need to search bags while providing airport passengers a means to lock their checked bags—and a suit against Google for allegedly infringing on a patent so that it could distribute and support its Google Earth product line. The judges interjected throughout the fast-paced proceedings with probing questions that varied from asking attorneys for clarification on how certain phrases buffered their case to those posed to gain a deeper understanding of the record or the differences in how products functioned. The judges will announce their rulings at a later date.
After the judges recessed, Hansen addressed the crowd and interviewed the judge’s clerks on their experience. The professor noted that this particular three-judge panel was “unusual” in the sense that the judges all came from different backgrounds—Lourie from academia and in-house counsel, O’Malley from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and district court level, and Taranto from a fairly traditional litigation career.
Hansen asked the judges upon their return about their perspective on the value of clerkships, what they look for in potential clerks, and their thoughts on the Supreme Court’s recent interest in patent law. The judges agreed that they look for strong writing in clerk candidates. Lourie went a step further, noting he only takes clerks with a scientific background and a demonstrated interest in patents.
“There are 12 other circuits for people to clerk with no special interest,” Lourie said. “We have something unique and a limited number of clerkships to give.” Therefore, it’s incumbent on the judges to award them to people who are in a position to “maximally and optimally” use them, he added.
Judge O’Malley, who then-President Barack Obama appointed to the Federal Circuit in 2010, told the students in attendance that she believed district court clerkships were the most “fun, varied, and exciting” experience a student pursuing a clerkship could have. However, from a judge’s perspective, she noted that she appreciates the time she’s provided to revise opinions at the Federal Circuit level—a luxury she did not enjoy when she sat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio due to its “constant motion.”
Patent law receives much greater interest today than it did in years past, O’Malley observed. Whereas the Federal Circuit is often referred to as the “Supreme Court of Patents,” the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the stance that the leading opinion on patent law should be its own, Lourie explained. On occasion the Supreme Court has even reversed Federal Circuit opinions.
“In recent years, when that’s happened, I don’t think we were wrong,” Lourie reflected. “They just took a different approach.”
The Federal Circuit’s visit to Fordham Law School marked the fourth major court to hear cases on the Lincoln Center campus in as many years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit commemorated the official opening of the Law School’s new building in 2014. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals and the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals also heard oral arguments in the Gorman Moot Courtroom over the past two years.