Emerging Fissures in Exercising Federal Jurisdiction Over Patent Legal Malpractice Cases

Over four years have elapsed since the Federal Circuit first held that federal courts possess exclusive jurisdiction over patent legal malpractice claims.  In Immunocept, LLC v. Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP, 504 F.3d 1281 (Fed. Cir. 2007), the court ruled that patent claim scope issues alleged in patent legal malpractice claim raise substantial federal issues.  Similarly, in Air Measurement Technologies, Inc. v. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, L.L.P., 504 F.3d 1262 (Fed. Cir. 2007), the same Federal Circuit panel ruled that patent litigation malpractice allegations also raise substantial federal issues.

Alleged errors in patent prosecution and patent litigation both raise substantial federal issues because the “case-within-a-case” analytical structure of a legal malpractice claim generally requires an underlying analysis of patent law standards, proximate causation issues, and patent damages calculations.  In other words, the legal malpractice allegations cannot be determined without an analysis of the merits of the underlying patent right at issue.

The reasoning of the Immunocept/Air Measurement cases is increasingly under attack.  Even a Federal Circuit panel recently stated that “we believe this court should re-evaluate the question of whether federal jurisdiction exists to entertain a state law malpractice claim involving the validity of a hypothetical patent . . . .”  Byrne v. Wood, Herron & Evans, et al., 2011 WL 5600640 (Fed. Cir. 2011)(non-precedential decision).  Predictably, the losing appellant requested a rehearing of this case en banc.  That request is pending.

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