Over the past few years, patent law reform has been a hot topic of congressional debate. The cost and complexity of patent litigation and the frequency with which district judges are getting reversed on questions of claim construction are often cited as cause for alarm. Heeding the calls for reform, a patent pilot program for district courts was recently unveiled in the U.S. Congress in an attempt to address both of these concerns. The pilot program sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives without opposition. The U.S. Senate has yet to consider the companion bill. This Comment introduces the pilot program and examines whether the concept of judicial specialization through an increased patent caseload is likely to result, as the bill’s proponents argue.
Judicial specialization for patent cases is popular in other countries; however, it has yet to catch on at the trial court level in the United States. While judicial specialization has a number of associated benefits, negative aspects, such as a likely increase in forum shopping, cannot be ignored. After exploring the costs and benefits of specialization, this Comment reviews the mechanics of getting into the pilot program. It then presents an original empirical case study that examines whether district court judges who currently hear the most patent cases are better at claim construction, as evidenced by reversal rates, than those who hear very few patent cases. The Comment then suggests ways to strengthen the pilot program so that it will be capable of bringing about true reform. Finally, it concludes by considering other options if the program is not ultimately adopted by Congress.55-3-5