Fracking Unearths Argument Over Patent Law

The Story:

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on two important patent-law cases November 27. Each involves an administrative process that Congress designed in 2011 to allow a business to challenge the validity of a competitor’s patent rights. One of the two cases turns on a demand that the Court strike the law outright as unconstitutional; the other involves interpretation of the statute.

The Dispute:

Historically, lawsuits to invalidate a patent have involved trial in a federal court before a jury.

Oil States Energy Services has a patent for a process designed to preserve the wellhead equipment involved in hydraulic fracturing, a controversial practice also known as “fracking.” Oil States wants its claim litigated in the traditional manner, and claims that the Seventh Amendment guarantees it that right.

The Thing to Know:

The statute in question is very popular with high-tech firms such as Apple, and they would almost certainly take a stock price hit if it were struck as unconstitutional.


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