The Supreme Court ruled Monday that in violation of the constitution, more than 250 administrative judges have been appointed to deal with patent litigation, some of which exceed billions of dollars.
The solution, a broken majority in the court ruled, was to give the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the power to review judges’ decisions in cases covered by a 2011 law that would challenge patents in question facilitated.
The United States v Arthrex case, No. 19-1434, arose out of a dispute filed by Smith & Nephew, a medical device company, against patents of a competitor, Arthrex, on a medical device. A panel of judges on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, an executive administrative tribunal created by the 2011 law, ruled that Arthrex’s patents were invalid.
Arthrex appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialized court in Washington, saying the patent judges’ decision should be overturned because they were improperly appointed.
The appellate court agreed and ruled that the judges performed important tasks without supervision and were therefore “main officials” according to the constitution, that is, they had to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate.
The Court of Appeal’s solution to the constitutional problem was to repeal part of the law that protected patent judges from unfounded dismissals. This effectively demoted them from “senior officials,” the appeals court said.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote for five judges on Monday, agreed that there was a constitutional issue with the correspondence between the appointment of judges and their duties. “The uncontrollable executive power exercised by the judges,” he wrote, “is inconsistent with their status as subordinate officials.”
“Only a duly appointed officer can make a final decision that binds the executive in the trial before us,” wrote the Chief Justice.
Judges Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett endorsed this part of the Chief Justice’s opinion.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for only four judges in another part of his opinion, that what the court should do with respect to the constitutional problem identified. He said the judges’ decisions are subject to review by the director. Judge Gorsuch disagreed with this part of the verdict and said it was up to Congress to address the constitutional flaw.
Judge Stephen G. Breyer, along with Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, disagreed with the first part of the Chief Justice’s opinion. “Today’s decision,” he wrote, “is both unprecedented and unnecessary, and risks pushing the judiciary further into areas where we lack both the authority and the ability to act wisely.”
But these three judges nonetheless accepted Chief Justice Roberts’ solution to the problem that the majority had identified.
Judge Clarence Thomas issued a separate dissent, largely followed by Judges Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. “The court is drawing a new line today separating subordinate officers from most important,” he wrote. “The fact that this line puts administrative patent judges on the side of ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, and department heads suggests something is not quite right.”
Here are other key Supreme Court rulings on Monday:
The court unanimously decided that the NCAA cannot prohibit relatively modest payments to student athletes in the name of amateurism. The antitrust decision comes because the business model of university sports is coming under increasing pressure.
The court also gave Goldman Sachs another chance to convince an appeals court not to be held liable for up to $ 13 billion for investors citing false statements about the investment bank’s sale of complex debt before the 2008 financial crisis.