The Federal Circuit has provided a statistical update on its caseload through the end of the 2010 fiscal year. Here’s a brief rundown.
There were 399 appeals filed in patent infringement cases from district courts, nearly identical to 2009’s 398, and the highest level since 2006. Of those, only 220 (60%) were decided by the court on the merits, with the remainder either settled, mediated, dismissed, or disposed of in another manner. The court issued 130 (59%) precedential decisions, 48 non-precedential decisions (22%), and 42 summary orders (19%). The percentage of cases being dismissed by summary orders, such as a Rule 36 affirmance without opinion, is increasing. There were also 65 patent appeals from the PTO.
For all cases, the Federal Circuit had a 12% reversal rate, with another 12% of cases reversed-in-part. In appeals from district courts, 15% were reversed, and another 22.5% were reversed-in-part. This means that 37.5% of the district court cases appealed to the Federal Circuit are sent back to the district court to reconsider at least some part of the case.
On a positive note, the court is disposing of appeals at a fairly quick rate given that it is working severely short-handed. District court appeals continue to require an average of 11.0 months from docketing to disposition, while appeals from the PTO (which include trademark appeals) are down to just 8.2 months on average from docketing to disposition.
The Federal Circuit’s high district court reversal rate (or reversal-in-part) is still a concern. Meaningful appellate review is certainly a necessary right for all litigants who are not satisfied with the district court’s decision. With a reversal rate so high, however, litigants are not encouraged to settle cases. It is difficult for attorneys to advise clients because 3 of every 8 cases are reversed, at least in part, by the Federal Circuit. It is only slightly more than irrelevant how the district court rules. The case is still in serious doubt until the Federal Circuit issues its decision.