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College of William and Mary




The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over patent appeals and, as a consequence, the last word on many legal issues important to innovation policy. This Article shows how the Federal Circuit augments its already significant power by impeding other government institutions from influencing the patent system. Specifically, the Federal Circuit has shaped patent-law doctrine, along with rules of jurisdiction, procedure, and administrative law, to preserve and expand the court’s power in four interinstitutional relationships: the court’s federalism relationship with state courts, its separation of powers relationship with the executive and legislative branches, its vertical relationship with trial courts, and its horizontal relationship with the regional circuits. The Article leverages this descriptive contribution to consider whether specialized or semispecialized courts will inevitably exclude other institutions from shaping the law within their domain. Although judicial behavior will likely vary depending on the court’s jurisdictional model, the Federal Circuit’s power enhancement arguably relates to the court’s dual missions to construct a uniform patent law and to provide expert adjudication in patent cases.

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