The Supreme Court does understand patent law. This invited Essay responds to Federal Circuit Judge Dyk’s remarks at the Chicago-Kent Supreme Court IP Review, in particular, his observation that the patent “bar and the academy have expressed skepticism that the Supreme Court understands patent law well enough to make the governing rules” (a view Judge Dyk did not endorse). The idea that the Supreme Court does not understand the law of patents is implausible. Even more generous interpretations of this criticism – that the Supreme Court insufficiently understands innovation policy, insufficiently understands the patent system that Congress desired in creating the Federal Circuit, or insufficiently understands the technical facts to resolve patent issues – do not hold up under closer scrutiny. Rather, those leveling this charge against the Supreme Court are mistaking policy disagreement for a lack of understanding. This mistake, even if one primarily of rhetoric, has potentially negative consequences for understanding the role of patent law, promoting productive debates about patent law and policy, and preserving the Supreme Court’s legitimacy in patent law and patent law’s (perhaps limited) contribution to the constraints imposed by legal authority in our society.Despite its relatively short length, there's much to parse here: the Supreme Court's jurisprudence from the lens of law, innovation policy, and technical understanding. While I disagree with some of the points, on the whole this essay resonates with me. There's no doubt that the Court's favoring of standards over rules is something that rubs folks the wrong way, but is consistent with the history of Supreme Court patent jurisprudence dating to the early 1800s. Further, even in those areas where I vehemently disagree with the Court's rulings (e.g. patentable subject matter), I think that disagreement is not because the Court fails to understand the issues. Instead, the Court has made policy choices that I disfavor.
In any event, this essay is worth a read regardless of your view of Court jurisprudence.