Brief of 15 Law Professors as Amici Curiae, Return Mail, Inc. v. United States Postal Service, No. 17-1594, Supreme Court of the United States
31 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2018
Date Written: June 25, 2018
Structurally, Congress in the Patent Act and the America Invents Act (AIA) preserved and established four distinct offices within Covered Business Method proceedings before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (Board) — (1) accused infringer, (2) patentee, (3) the Patent Office, and (4) an agency which enjoys sovereign immunity and the power of eminent domain. It declared and incorporated the traditional rights and duties of accused infringers and patent owners to initiate and answer to proceedings concerning patent validity, while in the AIA it moved some of those proceedings from Article III courts to administrative proceedings before the Board. Congress extended to those proceedings the Patent Office’s power to initiate the determination of patent validity. All the while, it preserved the power of agencies other than the Patent Office to appropriate patent rights by eminent domain.
Because different rights and duties are at stake in each of those four offices, and because the combination of separate powers could jeopardize the due process rights of patent owners and accused infringers, Congress did well to keep them separate. The powers of private parties and the federal government to initiate proceedings that implicate patent rights have important due process implications. The ruling below makes a hash of the procedural and institutional structure that Congress carefully designed.
In jurisprudential terms, the Postal Service claims the powers and immunities of the legislative sovereign, who possesses the inherent power of eminent domain and is immune from liability for infringement. At the same time, it claims the powers of an accused infringer and so disavows the legal disadvantages of the sovereign. It cannot have both.
In fact, the Postal Service cannot infringe and cannot be charged with infringement. The sovereign who exercises the power of eminent domain and pays just compensation has acted lawfully, not unlawfully, and therefore has not trespassed against the patent. And the Postal Service must pay compensation when it appropriates a license to practice a patented invention. Vested patents are property for Fifth Amendment purposes and a government must pay for licenses taken from them just as it pays for real and personal property that it appropriates.
Keywords: patents, infringement, eminent domain, vested rights, America Invents Act, powers, immunities, sovereign immunity
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