Document Type


Publication Date



The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, charged with adjudicating appeals in patent cases, has adopted an unusual approach that arrogates power over fact finding while it simultaneously invokes rule-formalism. Although the Federal Circuit's approach may be justified by the fact-finding and policy application deficiencies of the trial courts and the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), it has had a negative impact on innovation policy and has resulted in a patent system that is sorely in need of reform. This Article argues that because of the interdependence of the various institutions within the patent system, reform of the system must be both multi-institutional and closely attentive to the institutional competence of the system's actors. Although Congress should clearly bolster the PTO's fact-finding abilities, giving plenary responsibility over factual questions to the PTO would not be cost effective. Accordingly, Congress should endow the system with improved fact-finding expertise through the institution of specialized trial courts. As for actual policy formulation, each of the available institutional options-the legislature, the PTO, and the courts-has substantial associated liabilities. On balance, however, the Federal Circuit is probably best positioned to formulate Patent Policy, so long as the fact-finding expertise of inferior institutions is bolstered and additional appellate mechanisms are instituted. By paying attention to institutional design and revising our institutions accordingly, we can achieve the patent system we should have had all along.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Intellectual property, Patent laws and legislation, Patents--Government policy