Federal Circuit Rejects Broad Right of Public Access to Patent Trials

Washington, D.C. – The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that a showing of good cause was sufficient to support parties’ requests to file documents under seal. The case was heard by Circuit Judges Sharon Prost, William C. Bryson and Kathleen O’Malley.

Courts have traditionally acknowledged a right of free access to patent information. Lately, however, judges have increasingly restricted the general public’s access to patent litigation. The Federal Circuit spoke to this in the matter of Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., which recently resulted in a new verdict for Apple, this time for $290 million.picture of the court.jpg

In the patent litigation that led to that verdict, the parties had agreed that certain documents were to be filed under seal. Judge Lucy H. Koh had rejected this agreement and instead had required that the parties provide “compelling reasons” for sealing documents. The parties appealed this ruling.

The Federal Circuit discussed the public-policy implications of shielding patent infringement trials from the public eye. It rejected the notion that general public interest in a trial involving patent litigation is sufficient to require that the briefs and evidence be made available to the public. Instead, the Federal Circuit held that the public’s interest must be more than mere curiosity where the information at issue was not central to the court’s decision on the merits of the case. It also held that the interests of the parties in maintaining the confidentiality of their information must be considered. The court wrote, “[w]hile protecting the public’s interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties’ right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest.”

The Federal Circuit reversed the district court, holding that a showing of “compelling reasons” was not the correct standard to apply when determining if parties should be allowed to file documents under seal. Instead, under the law, only a showing of “good cause” is required.

Practice Tip: This case is unusual in that it reached the appeals court. Typically, when patent attorneys for the parties agree to keep information secret, most district court judges are willing to allow evidence and briefs to be filed under seal. It is perhaps due to the considerable public interest in this case that Judge Koh declared before the trial that “the whole trial is going to be open.”

The case was assigned to Circuit Judges Prost, Bryson and O’Malley in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and assigned Case No. 2013-1129.

Apple v Samsung – Fed Cir

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