Patent Attorney Malpractice: Who Hears The Case?

Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits "arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights and trademarks." But does that then mean federal courts have jurisdiction when a client sues his patent litigation attorneys?

Generally, claims for legal malpractice are decided by state courts and claims regarding patent laws are governed by federal courts. However, the United States Supreme Court has just agreed to review the case Gunn v. Minton to determine whether an attorney malpractice claim that asserts malpractice in handling a patent lawsuit "arises under" patent laws and is therefore under federal court jurisdiction.

The facts of Gunn v. Minton

Minton developed software for investment trading. In 1995, he licensed the software to NASDAQ. More than a year later he applied for a patent. When he later sued NASDAQ in a $100 million patent infringement lawsuit, his patent was determined invalid because he sold the software more than a year before applying for a patent. Post judgment, Minton moved the court to consider that the early licensing did not invalidate his patent, because it was an experimental use. His motion was denied for being untimely. Minton then sued his patent litigation lawyers for failing to plead the experimental use issue in a timely manner.

Minton brought his legal malpractice lawsuit in Texas state courts where it was dismissed for lack of evidence. He appealed the dismissal to the state appellate court. During the appeal, the Federal Circuit court ruled, on two similar cases, that when a malpractice case arises from a patent law issue, federal courts have jurisdiction. Based on those rulings, Minton asked the appellate court to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. While the appellate court denied that request, the Texas Supreme Court did not and held that the case should be brought in federal court.

The attorneys for the patent attorneys petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review, asking them to decide once and for all: Who decides patent attorney malpractice claims (which involve no actual patents) - state or federal courts? The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the issue.

Legal malpractice claims

Legal malpractice suits are complex, especially if the underlying lawsuit involved intellectual property. If you have had a legal malpractice or ethical complaint made against you from someone seeking financial compensation, contact an experienced legal malpractice attorney to defend your rights, your reputation and your career.

LP Leritz & Plunkert, PC

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