Oil States v. Greene’s: The Decision [SCOTUSbrief]
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Oil States v. Greene’s: The Decision [SCOTUSbrief]


Oil States and Greene’s Energy are energy
companies working with the new technology in fracking in oil extraction. Oil States or more specifically one of its
subsidiaries had a patent on some new fracking technology. It sued Greene’s Energy in court for infringement
of that patent. Greene’s Energy filed a petition to invalidate
Oil States’ patent at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board whose purpose is to cancel or
invalidate issued patents. The Oil States versus Greene’s Energy case raised
a fundamental question about the status of patents as property rights, as protected under the Constitution through
either the seventh amendments requirement that everyone receive a jury trial for the
protection of their rights to life, liberty, and property, and through the separation of
powers doctrine. The distinction between public rights and
private rights was fundamental to the Oil States v. Greene Energy’s case. But one of the ways that the courts have typically
managed this distinction is to try to identify the provenance of the legal right at issue. Is it found in common law or is it found in
statutes or regulations? As a first cut, if a right is found in its
origins in a regulation or in a statute, then it’s a public right. If it’s found in common law, the classic source
of our rights of life, liberty, and property, then it’s a private right. But in a certain sense this distinction between
statutes versus common law isn’t really precise. In Oil States, the court split 7/2. Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion
for Oil States, and in fact it was joined by other justices across the spectrum, Justice
Ginsburg, Justice Alito, showing that patent cases are not typically cases where you have
judicial conservatives and judicial liberals splitting along those lines. The Supreme Court, for the first time, fully
embraced the view of patents as public franchises, as regulatory entitlement grants. Justice Thomas held that this is proper given
that patents are, in fact, public rights on par with toll roads, toll bridges, and even
public utilities, regulatory entitlements that are accorded
by the government by privilege. Therefore, they do not receive the full protections
of the Constitution and the PTAB, as it exists, is simply the converse of the grant of a patent. The Grant Patent Office can choose the conditions
under which it grants the patent per the statutes that Congress has enacted and the patent office
can therefore revoke the patent per the conditions that Congress has enacted in the statutes. The separation of powers was a key element
of the Oil States case and ended up being fundamental to the entire decision, as opposed
to the seventh amendment jury right that seemed to be ostensibly the issue presented to the
Court. Justice Thomas explained that the Patent Trial
and Appeal Board, the PTAB, does not violate the separation of powers and the requirement
that our private rights are adjudicated by Article III Courts simply because patents
are public franchise grants, and, therefore, belong solely within the domain
of the administrative state in the discretion of the executive branch. The Oil States decision fundamentally does
affect how we think of patents today. It calls into question the status of property
rights that are secured or defined by statutes. Which are most property rights today and places
them under its logic firmly within the domain of the administrative state continuing to
grow this fourth branch of the government in the executive branch in power and in unconstrained
and unlimited abilities to dictate to us how we live our lives and how we use our property
today.

2 Comments

  • Ugo

    As was stated, this decision doesn't give more power to the executive branch, no, it only justly allow patents to be viewed in the right light according to the statutes from the executive branch at the time. I believe it was a fair and diligent decision that allows the elected president to shape the country in his view. The President is the President for a reason but the balance is the same.

  • Bob Beckel

    Clear as mud. It sounds like, the court has ruled, in the cases where Congress has failed to clearly define the rules, the Executive
    can do whatever it wants. I presume a statute is a law. Congress writes the law. The Executive executes the law. And, where the
    law is unclear, the Supreme Court interprets based on rule of unintended consequences. It appears the government has figured out
    how to destroy the Republic by burying it in rules and regulations. Every citizen commits three felonies every day.

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