By Jason Rantanen
The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) is an independent federal agency that’s charged with recommending improvements to administrative process and procedure. The position of Chairman is currently vacant, so the Vice-Chairman, Matthew Lee Wiener, is serving as Acting Chair. A key aspect of ACUS is soliciting input from the public.
ACUS is conducting a study on behalf of the USPTO to examine “issues associated with and options for designing a small claims patent court.” It recently published a request for public comments on the idea of a small claims patent court. From the notice in the Federal Register:
Since at least the late 1980s, concerns have been raised that the high cost of
patent litigation deters small- and medium-sized enterprises, including
those owned by traditionally underrepresented groups, from seeking
to enforce their patents. Policymakers, scholars, and organizations have studied
whether a small-claims procedure is needed for resolving patent disputes.
They have reached different conclusions and proposed different actions.
The Department of Commerce has also considered the possibility of a
small claims patent court. Most recently, in December 2012, the USPTO
issued a Federal Register notice requesting public comment on ‘‘whether
the United States should develop a small claims proceeding for patent
enforcement’’ (77 FR 74830 (Dec. 18, 2012)).
Given ongoing interest in the topic, USPTO has engaged ACUS to conduct
an independent survey and analysis of issues associated with and options to
consider in designing a small claims patent court. A report resulting from the
study will ultimately be submitted to Congress and will address, among other
topics, whether there is a need for a small claims patent court, the feasibility
and potential structure of such a court, and the relevant legal, policy, and
practical considerations in establishing a small claims patent court.
Although ACUS is seeking all comments on the topic, they’ve specifically pointed out these areas of interest:
1. Whether there is need for a small claims patent court;
2. The policy and practical considerations in establishing a small
claims patent court;
3. The institutional placement, structure, and internal organization of a
potential small claims patent court, including whether it should be
established within the Article III federal courts, as or within an Article I court,
or as an administrative tribunal;
4. The selection, appointment, management, and oversight of officials who preside over proceedings in a potential small claims patent court;
5. The subject-matter jurisdiction of a potential small claims patent court,
whether participation in such proceedings would be mandatory or
voluntary, and whether parties can remove cases to another administrative
tribunal or federal court;
6. The procedures and rules of practice for a potential small claims
patent court, including, as relevant, pleadings, discovery, and alternative
7. The remedies that a potential small claims patent court would be able to
8. The legal effect of decisions of a potential small claims patent court; and
9. Opportunities for administrative and/or judicial review of small claims
patent court decisions.
While I forsee lots of issues associated with a small claims patent court, I would imagine that the issue preclusion issues arising from an invalidity determination would be need especially carefully thought out, as well as whether patent owners could use this mechanism to bring large quantities of suits against consumers/end users who lack the resources to adequately defend themselves against a patent infringement claim.
Comments are due by July 5, 2022, and can be submitted at “firstname.lastname@example.org,” with “Small Claims Patent Court Comments” in the subject line of the message. Remember that submitted comments may be made publicly available.
Credit to Jeremy Graboyes for bringing this to my attention.