MI: Patent Law
Facts: The underlying action was brought by a patent holder whose attorneys filed an infringement suit involving patents for lacrosse sticks and heads. The patent owner filed a malpractice suit against their former attorneys, claiming that as a result of the alleged malpractice, it was forced to settle the infringement action for less than the true value of its claim. In the malpractice action, the patent holder alleged that the attorney failed to pay a maintenance fee, resulting in a lapsed patent. The district court regarded the patent owner’s claims as raising only state law issues and therefore dismissed the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Issue: Under what circumstances does a federal district court have subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim for legal malpractice arising out of a patent dispute?
Ruling: The United States Court of Appeals concluded that at least one of the patent holder’s malpractice claims required the court to resolve a substantive issue of patent law. Therefore, the court held that federal statute (28 U.S.C. § 1338 – which grants district courts exclusive jurisdiction over cases arising under a statute relating to patents) conferred subject matter jurisdiction over the patent owner’s claims in this case. Ultimately, the appeals court vacated the trial court’s dismissal order and remanded the malpractice suit to the district court for further proceedings.
Lesson: A party bringing a malpractice suit may file it in federal court, even in the absence of diversity between the parties, if the malpractice claim requires the court to resolve a substantive issue of patent law.