Supreme Court to Consider Whether PTAB Judges Are Unconstitutionally Appointed

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The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to consider whether Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) judges are unconstitutionally appointed. The United States of America v. Arthrex, Inc., Case Nos. 19-1452, -1458, -1459 (Supr. Ct. October 13, 2020) (certiorari granted).

In what quickly turned into a controversial decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held the appointment of administrative patent judges at the PTAB unconstitutional. Arthrex, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc.  The Federal Circuit found that PTAB judges were appointed as if they were “inferior officers” but vested by the PTAB with authority that is reserved for Senate-confirmed “principal officers.” Smith & Nephew, Arthrex and the United States of America petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the decision.

The questions presented are:

  1. Whether, for purposes of the Appointments Clause, US Const. Art. II, § 2, Cl. 2, administrative patent judges of the US Patent and Trademark Office are principal officers who must be appointed by the president with the Senate’s advice and consent, or “inferior officers” whose appointment Congress has permissibly vested in a department head.
  2. If administrative patent judges are principal officers, whether the court of appeals properly cured any Appointments Clause defect in the current statutory scheme prospectively by severing the application of 5 USC 7513(a) to those judges.

[View source.]

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