Supreme Court shoots down Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction standard
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Supreme Court shoots down Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction standard

The Supreme Court has held that a malpractice case involving an underlying patent claim is not exclusively the jurisdiction of the federal courts

The case, Gunn v Minton, involved a malpractice claim brought by Vernon Minton against Jerry Gunn of Williams Squire & Wren, James Wren of Slusser & Frost and William Slusser of Slusser Wilson & Partridge, for allegedly missing a deadline to file an argument, thereby waiving that argument and losing Minton’s patent case.

While Minton was appealing his malpractice case to a Texas appellate court, the Federal Circuit ruled in two separate cases (involving Akin Gump and Fulbright & Jaworski) that “legal malpractice claims with a substantive patent-related issue have federal jurisdiction”, according to the Supreme Court opinion.

As a result, Minton attempted to dismiss his appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the Texas Supreme Court ultimately agreed with him. The attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that “patent-related legal malpractice claims should not fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts because state interests outweigh federal interests in resolving malpractice cases”.

The Court agreed. “As we recognized a century ago, ‘[t]he Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction of all cases arising under the patent laws, but not of all questions in which a patent may be the subject-matter of the controversy’,” said the majority.

Commenters on Patently O had varying takes on the case. NWPA said:

The SCOTUS just smacked the Fed. Cir. again. If Congress wants to fix the patent system, they should remove patent law from SCOTUS jurisdiction….Get the SCOTUS out of patent law.

But IP litigator John McNett of Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry felt the decision was correct:

What a delight to read the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion, putting a proper perspective on [what is meant by] arising under jurisdiction

Jane Webre of Scott Douglass & McConnico represented the attorneys in the case, while Thomas Michel of Griffith Jay & Michel represented Minton.

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