In 2012, Oil States—a Texas company, that holds a patent that allows wellheads during oil and gas drilling operations to withstand the continuous pressure and abrasiveness of hydraulic fracturing fluid and thus protects them from severe damage, shut downs, and delays in energy production—filed an infringement suit against Greene’s Energy Group, LLC in Texas federal district court alleging that Greene’s Energy was infringing on its patent. Green’s Energy countered that the patent was invalid. Subsequently, Greene’s Energy petitioned the Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board to invalidate, or cancel, the patent, a process that the Board began on June 10, 2014.
On June 23, 2014, the Texas federal district court ruled that “the claims … [in patent] easily inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty” and, thus, “the claims [by Greene’s Energy] are not invalid.” Nonetheless, the Board continued to conduct its own review. On May 1, 2015, the Board concluded, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” that the patent is “unpatentable” and should never have been issued.
On June 12, 2015, Oil States appealed the Board’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing, in part, that the Board’s decision must be set aside because the Constitution requires patent invalidation to be determined by a jury in an Article III court. On May 4, 2016, a panel of the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision without issuing an opinion. On November 23, 2016, Oil States filed a timely petition for writ of certiorari. On June 12, 2017, the Supreme Court granted the petition.
On August 31, 2017, MSLF and Professor James W. Ely, Jr., filed a friend of the court brief arguing that property rights may only be invalidated by an Article III court after a trial by jury.