Supreme Court upholds review process for patents

Supreme Court upholds review process for patents
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of a government process used to resolve patent disputes.

In a 7-2 ruling, the court said Congress has permissibly given the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the right to reconsider and cancel an already-issued patent in a process known as inter partes review.

The case stems from a lawsuit that Oil States Energy Services LLC brought against Greene’s Energy Group LLC for allegedly infringing on a patent it had relating to wellhead equipment used in hydraulic fracturing.

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Greene’s Energy Group then challenged the patent’s validity in the district court and also petitioned the PTO for an inter partes review.

When the PTO board sided with Greene’s Energy, Oil States appealed and challenged the constitutionality of the inter partes review process. The company argued an action to revoke a patent must be tried in an Article III court before a jury. 

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said court precedent has given Congress significant latitude to assign adjudication of public rights to entities other than Article III courts.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who usually sides with Thomas, dissented from the court’s majority ruling in an opinion Chief Justice John Roberts joined.

He argued the court was wrong to conclude that because the PTO has the authority to grant patents it also has the authority to revoke them. 

“Just because you give a gift doesn’t mean you forever enjoy the right to reclaim it,” Gorsuch, the court's newest Justice, wrote.

“And, as we’ve seen, just because the Executive could issue an invention (or land) patent did not mean the executive could revoke it.”