In Defense of Holmes v. Vornado
Ravi V. Sitwala
The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule. In Holmes Group, Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Systems, Inc., the Supreme Court held that counterclaims-permissive or compulsory-cannot operate to create jurisdiction under the rule. The Holmes decision has been the target of numerous commentators because of its effect on patent law. The crux of the criticism is that the policies supporting the decision only make sense with respect to the well-pleaded complaint rule as applied to federal question jurisdiction. Further, the decision is alleged to promote forum shopping in patent law and threaten the very goals behind the creation of the Federal Circuit. In this Note, Ravi Sitwala rejects the criticism of the Holmes decision. He begins by examining the decision and the policies supposedly contravened by it and then shows that the harm to these policies is overstated greatly. Holmes increases only slightly the ability of litigants to engage in forum shopping,and would allow only a minimal number of patent cases to reach regional circuit courts or state courts. Sitwala goes on to demonstratet he importance of the policies behind the decision, as it protects plaintiffs’ mastery over their cases. Although concluding that the decision should not be overruled-legislatively or otherwise-he recognizes that some issues of patent law may come before regional circuit or state courts. Accordingly, he proposes a model for these courts to adjudicate patent law issues. This model analogizes the problem to the one faced by federal courts when deciding state law issues, and recommends that courts follow Federal Circuit law. Thus, when available, precedent should be followed, and when unavailable, courts should either predict the law or certify the questions to the Federal Circuit, much like in the Erie context.