Local patent rules are special.

Local rules, standing orders, and the like are essentially oversight provisions in the interest of sound judicial administration.  For most kinds of litigation, provisions like these reflecting local custom and practice and are subject to the supervisory jurisdiction of the regional circuit court of appeals, which can provide a modicum consistency at least within a circuit.

Patent cases, of course, are not subject to the oversight of the regional court of appeals.  Moreover, the Federal Circuit early on eschewed the exercise of supervisory authority over the district courts. [1] Districts courts already answer to their regional courts of appeal on matters of judicial administration, and the Federal Circuit hesitates to intrude on that relationship.

The landscape for local patent rules
District Court Map

But despite the frequent admonition that the trial of a patent case should proceed like any other [2], patent cases are stubbornly different. The cases include special purpose proceedings like Markman hearings for claim construction. The Administrative Office of Courts and Federal Judicial Center offer special judicial training and resources for patent cases. Pleadings in patent cases have been a topic of intense discussion, and were one of the factors in the decision to do away with the forms from the rules effective December 1, 2015. These special requirements and procedures give rise to the need for special rules applicable to such cases.

Local patent rules, and the cases interpreting them, deserve special attention in the national conversation.  It is where the rubber meets the road in the practical world of patent litigation. If patents matter for your business, insight into how litigation plays out at the local level is critical.

[1] See C.P.C. v. Nosco Plastics, Inc., 719 F.2d 400, 401 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (“The Federal Court Improvements Act, Pub. Law 97–164, provided jurisdiction in this court over appeals from district court judgments in certain cases. It provided no supervisory authority over any district court, such as might justify a writ of mandamus under certain circumstances.”).

[2] E.g., SRI Int’l v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 775 F.2d 1107, 1116 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (“The Federal Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure and of Evidence are and should be applied in patent cases no differently from their application in any other type of case.”).

  • Yes, local patent rules are important, and they do tend to keep cases moving forward toward a final disposition, but they impose a lot of make-work on parties and counsel, essentially shifting case management responsibilities from the Court to the attorneys. That comes at a high cost to the parties.