The right to a jury trial is fundamental to our system. It is what lets even individuals and small companies get justice in court. This is no less true in the patent arena than elsewhere.
For obvious reasons, powerful interests have tried to minimize the role of juries in patent cases. They have done this by persuading the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that certain matters, such as patent claim interpretation, are issues of law, not fact. Some cynics claim the Federal Circuit largely ignores what happens at trial and simply substitutes its own opinions for those of the lower court and jury.
In what might be a refreshing counter-development, the Federal Circuit recently reinstated a critical jury finding and paved the way for the patent owner to proceed. In Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., the Federal Circuit reinstated a jury’s finding that the patent involved was “not invalid”* and reversed the decision of the presiding judge who thought otherwise. Finding that “substantial evidence” supported the jury’s finding, the Federal Circuit reinstated the jury’s original finding, thereby paving the way for the patent owner to proceed with its case. Because $140 million is at stake, that’s important to the parties — and is interesting to us on the sidelines.
While one decision is hardly a sea change, the Federal Circuit could easily have bounced the patent owner out of court altogether on these facts had it been so inclined. That it did not do so gives me hope that it’s still too early to write-off juries in patent cases altogether.
*Normal people would simply say the jury found the patent valid. In the world of patent litigation, however, double and sometimes triple negatives are needed in order to use “proper terminology.”