By Jason Rantanen
While most commentators are focusing on year-in-reviews, I thought it would be fun to do a decade-in-review using data from the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions, the publicly-accessible dataset that we’ve developed at Iowa Law containing information about all decisions by the Federal Circuit since 2008. You can access the Compendium via empirical.law.uiowa.edu/.
1. Decisions by origin
Recently, we updated the Compendium to include all decisions arising from origins other than the District Courts and USPTO. This lets us compare decisions across all origins along a variety of dimensions.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of Federal Circuit decisions by major source. A “decision” in the Compendium is defined as an opinion or Rule 36 affirmance. I’ve grouped origins with small numbers of appeals, including the Board of Contract Appeals, Department of Justice, and Department of Veterans’ Affairs, into the “other” category. (The figures link to larger versions.)
Or if strata are more your thing:
These graphs show the well-known increase in decisions arising from the USPTO (mostly from inter partes review proceedings), but also a decline in decisions arising from the MSPB. (These outputs match the inputs: the Federal Circuit’s statistics page indicates a decline in the number of docketed appeals arising from the MSPB.) While decisions arising from the district courts and the USPTO have crossed paths over the past few years, the number of decisions originating from the district courts is about where it began the decade. Overall, the court’s total output has risen by about 100 decisions/year during this time.
2. Precedential opinions by origin
Another way to assess a court’s output is in terms of its precedential opinions, as these constitute law on which future courts and parties rely. Below is a chart showing the Federal Circuit’s annual number of precedential opinions by major source of origin. The “other” group here includes the “other” category from the above graphs plus the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, Court of International Trade, and International Trade Commission.
Figure 3 shows precedential opinions in appeals arising from the district courts peaking at about 100 in 2014 and 2015, before falling to about 75 for the last few years. At the same time, the number of precedential opinions in appeals arising from the USPTO has risen substantially, from under 20 in 2013 to about 50-60 for the last few years.
3. Types of Decision by Origin
The below pie charts show the distribution of precedential opinions, nonprecedential opinions and summary affirmances under Rule 36. by source of origin for the entire period 2010-2019. About 30% of the Federal Circuit’s decisions consist of Rule 36 affirmances.
The lion’s share of precedential opinions and Rule 36 affirmances come from appeals from the District Courts and USPTO, nearly all of which involve patent issues. For nonprecedential opinions, it’s the opposite: about half of these of these are written in appeals from the MSPB and CAVC.
One other way of looking at the data on decision types by court of origin for the entire decade:
- District court and PATO opinions: precedential, Rule 36 and nonprecedential
The final set of graphs for today are annual decisions from the USPTO and District Court by decision type.
If there are particular graphs of Federal Circuit decisions from the last decade that you’d like to see, send me an email and if we have the data I’ll try to generate them.
You’re welcome to play around with the data on your own. If you do use it for something that you publish, please include a citation to the Compendium. There’s a convenient cite form on the landing page for the database. You’re also welcome to use the above graphs in presentations, provided that you give credit to PatentlyO and the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions (https://empirical.law.uiowa.edu/compendium-federal-circuit-decisions).
More reading on the Compendium of Federal Circuit Decisions and methodology & cautions for case count data generally:
- http://Empirical.law.uiowa.edu (Compendium website, with details and a copy of the Codebook)
- Rantanen, J., The Landscape of Modern Patent Appeals, 67 Am. U. L. Rev. 985 (2018) (https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2013&context=aulr)
- Rantanen, J., Empirical Analyses of Judicial Opinions: Methodology, Metrics and the Federal Circuit, 49 Conn. L. Rev. 227 (2017) (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2774307)
- Rantanen, J., Administering Patent Law, 104 Iowa L. Rev. 2299 (2019) (https://ilr.law.uiowa.edu/print/volume-104-issue-5/administering-patent-law/)
Thanks to my research assistants for their work on the Compendium, especially Will O’Brien, Lindsay Kriz, Madison Murhammer-Colon, John Miscevich and Joseph Bauer.