Overview of US Law and Court System

Overview Of US Law –Federal and State

  • Federal laws enacted by US Congress

    • Patents are exclusively governed by federal law.
    • The principal source of federal law governing patents is Title 35 of the US Code.
    • Common law system relies on judicial precedent. Federal court decisions interpret the statutes and, in some cases, create law themselves. For example, the doctrine of equivalents has no independent statutory basis.
    • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence apply in patent cases. In addition, many district courts have instituted local rules specific to patent litigation.
  • State laws enacted by individual states

    • State law has little or no role in patent litigation, except, for example, where the issue is one of contract or ownership.

Overview Of US Law –Federal Court System

  • District Courts

    • General trial courts of the U.S. Federal Court System.
    • Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court.
  • Court of International Trade

  • Legislative Courts

    • US Tax Court
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
    • PTAB and TTAB
    • Board of Contract Appeals (government contracts)
    • Merit Systems Protection Board (federal employment)
    • International Trade Commission
  • Appeal Courts –9 Circuits plus Federal Circuit

  • Federal Circuit Jurisdiction (Legislative Courts, CIT, District Court Patent Cases)


  • Supreme Court

    • Discretionary jurisdiction over appeals from all courts

Order of Precedence: What Law Controls?

  • The order of precedence of primary law is:
    • US Constitution;
    • Federal statutes and regulations;
    • Case law.
  • The order of precedence of case law is:
    • US Supreme Court;
    • Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC);
    • Federal district courts within the regional circuit in which the case is brought;
    • Federal district courts outside the regional circuit in which the case is brought;
    • Decisions and rules of administrative agencies.
  • Note: US district courts are not bound by other decisions of foreign courts, although they can consider their reasoning on a similar issue.