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Judge Michel Announces Resignation, Lays it On the Line (and promises more to follow)

Judge Michel Announces Resignation, Lays it On the Line (and promises more to follow)

CAFC Chief Judge Paul Michel doesn’t pull punches when he states his views on problems with the U.S. patent system and the federal courts more generally, and he didn’t pull too many when he announced his upcoming retirement from the CAFC on on November 20, 2009.  A few notable quotes from his speech:

On interlocutory appeals of claim construction rulings to the CAFC: A provision in a Senate patent reform bill would allow interlocutory appeals of Markman rulings.  Predictably, Judge Michel doesn’t like the idea.  He states that interlocutory appeals would double or triple the case load on the CAFC, and the court “can’t handle it.”

The median time to adjudicate a patent case before the CAFC?  One year “from filing, to the opinion going up on the Internet.”  Interlocutory appeals would double this to two years.

And, interlocutory appeals are unnecessary as a practical matter, he argues.  Some interesting statistics from Judge Michel:  “About 3,000 [patent cases] are filed a year, about 2,700 settled spontaneously. Of the remaining 300, about 200 are resolved on summary judgment, almost always based on claim construction. . . . The remaining 100 go to trial. . . . there almost are never second trials. There usually aren’t even first trials.”

On Upcoming Retirements from the CAFC: The CAFC has 11 active judges and five senior judges. . . .  [t]he . . .  little secret here is there are five other judges of our active 11 who could retire tomorrow, or take senior status. . . . [p]otentially five other seats at any time could become vacant.  A year hence . . . two more will be eligible for that conversion of status. So there could be seven more vacancies within a year of tonight.”

On Diversity: “We don’t have and have never had an African-American judge on our Court. Nor do we have an Asian-American heritage judge on our Court. We do have three women out of 16, but three women out of 16 is less than a quarter — it’s half the population.”

As I’ve noted before, Massachusetts U.S. District Judge Patti Saris has been mentioned as a strong candidate for a CAFC seat.

And of course:

Earlier today, I sent a letter to the President informing him of my intention to retire from active judicial service, effective May 31, 2010. . . . I had always imagined I would stay a senior judge until I was carried out of the courthouse in a pine box. But I’ve come to a different conclusion, because I see a huge need for someone to be able to speak out on behalf of the court system generally — of the judges, the lawyers, and the litigants.

American Lawyer: The USSC Has the CAFC Trembling in its Robes

“Justice belongs to those who claim it, but let the claimant beware lest he create new injustice by his claim and thus set the bloody pendulum of revenge into its inexorable motion”

Frank Herbert


For those who have access to the American Lawyer (and I realize that at $430/year that’s a tiny percentage of lawyers, and almost no non-lawyers), there’s a interesting article in the March 2009 issue on the impact the Roberts Court’s patent rulings in appeals from the CAFC (six cases, six reversals) has had on the CAFC. The article, titled “The Error of Their Ways,” shows the extent to which the USSC is pushing the CAFC in the direction of a more moderate (less permissive) application of patent law. According to this article, the Supreme Court has the CAFC questioning everything they have ever known about patent law. If this article is to be believed, the Supreme Court has effected a major retrenchment in U.S. patent law.

Oh well. Who said that the law was immune from creative destruction?

You may be able to find the American Lawyer in a library, but I doubt that many libraries would pay that subscription ….

Will Massachusetts Lose Judge Saris to the CAFC?

According to the front page of the January 12, 2009, National Law Journal (above the fold), Massachusetts U.S. District Court Judge Patti B. Saris is on the “short list” to be appointed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit – the so-called “science court” that sits in Washington D.C. and hears patent appeals from all of the U. S. District Courts in the United States.

When it comes to patents, Judge Saris is the “stand out” judge in Massachusetts. She’s shown a liking and a knack for patent litigation, and lawyers who draw her in their patent cases are appreciative.   She also is active on “the circuit,” speaking at seminars and events where judges are asked to share their thoughts on patent law issues – in other words, she’s an authority on the subject, and her influence extends far beyond her court room.

The NLJ has an extensive article, the main point of which is that the CAFC, which has 12 judges, is expected to lose as many as half that number to retirements in the next few years.   Not only is Judge Saris on the short list of about 10 candidates for the CAFC, but she is one of only three judicial candidates.

Needless to say, it would be a blow to the Massachusetts federal bench if it lost a judge of this caliber, but it would be a great honor and opportunity for Judge Saris.

Chief Judge Paul R. Michel, United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit:

. . . the Supreme Court can only decide a couple of patent cases even in a banner year. And, many important patent issues may be so obscure as to discourage its generalist judges from addressing them. The rest, necessarily, are left to us. We have the expertise and the will to resolve doctrinal problems. What we lack is mainly the opportunity. Why for example did it take a full decade to revisit State Street? Because no one asked us to until recently. The same can be said of the central issue decided in KSR. It was never simply presented to us in a petition for en banc treatment. Oddly, we receive over a hundred a year. Yet few raise such fundamental issues as eligible subject matter under §101, or the Teaching-Suggestion-Motivation test, or the proper methodology for assessing requests for the permanent injunction, or barring them, future damages.

Speaking at the Harvard Law School Conference On Intellectual Property Law, September 9, 2008.

Click here for full text of speech.