Wednesday, November 18, 2015

McCarthy & Roumiantseva on Federal Circuit Exclusive Trademark Jurisdiction: "We Think Not"

Even though the Federal Circuit is often called "the patent court," it hears appeals in a wide variety of areas. Statistics on caseload by origin are available here; note that patent appeals have ballooned to 62% of the docket in FY2015 from 29% in FY2006.

A number of commentators have proposed "fixing" the Federal Circuit by adjusting its jurisdiction; for example, Paul Gugliuzza's creative suggestion has been discussed on this blog. One proposal has been to give the court exclusive jurisdiction over trademark cases. Tom McCarthy and Dina Roumiantseva think it is time to squelch any enthusiasm for this idea:
With some regularity over the years, a proposal is made to change the Lanham Act so that appeals in all Lanham Act trademark and false advertising cases from district courts across the United States will be diverted from the regional circuit courts of appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. We think it is time to discuss this proposal head on and hopefully to convince the reader that this diversion is not a good idea and should never be implemented. Advocates of this proposal claim that trademark law would benefit from the consistency that a single appeals court could provide and that the Federal Circuit has exceptional expertise in trademark law. We believe, however, that trademark law does not suffer from the kind of circuit conflict that led to the channeling of all patent appeals to the Federal Circuit in 1982. Moreover, our review of case law suggests that some regional circuits have a comparable or greater experience with trademark law. We argue that no change in the present system of trademark appeals is needed.
Given the benefits of policy diversity and the lack of a compelling argument for centralizing trademark appeals, I tend to agree. Their full essay, Divert All Trademark Appeals to the Federal Circuit? We Think Not, is on SSRN.

Will there ever be changes to the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction? Given the lack of consensus on whether the current jurisdiction creates problems and if so, how best to fix it in a way that is both sound and politically palatable, I don't foresee any imminent changes.

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