The United States federal court system is a hierarchical structure consisting of three levels: the district courts, the courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court. District courts are trial-level courts who have jurisdiction over a wide range of federal cases, including criminal cases, civil cases involving federal law, and cases involving federal agencies. The courts of appeals are intermediate appellate courts, who hear appeals from the district courts and other federal agencies within their geographic jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, and has the final say on all cases involving federal law and the United States Constitution.
The federal court system was established by the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to create and regulate federal courts. Our first federal courts were created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, which only established district courts and the Supreme Court. The Act also created the Office of the Attorney General and provided for the appointment of federal judges by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Over time, the federal court system has evolved and expanded to meet our country’s changing needs. The number of federal district courts and judges has increased while new courts of appeals have been established.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (in case citations, Fed. Cir.) has special appellate jurisdiction over certain types of specialized cases in the U.S. federal court system. It should not be confused with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Federal Circuit has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal cases involving patents, trademarks, government contracts, veterans’ benefits, public safety officers’ benefits, federal employees’ benefits, and various other categories.
Here are some landmark cases derived from the Federal Circuit:
- Stanford v. Roche (2011) – clarified the rules for ownership of inventions made with government funding.
- eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC (2006) – established the standard for obtaining injunctions in patent cases.
- In re Bilski (2008) – held that a method of hedging financial risks was not patentable subject matter.
- Centocor, Inc. v. Abbott Laboratories (2011) – clarified the standard for proving induced infringement of a patent.
- Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc. (1998) – established the Federal Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction over appeals of certain patent cases.
These cases reflect the Federal Circuit’s unique role in resolving legal disputes related to patents, intellectual property, and technology.