The current U.S. Supreme Court term promises to have significant impact on intellectual property law and practice. The Court has already ruled on one IP case so far this term, Medtronic v. Mirowski Family Ventures, and is scheduled to rule on nine more. This is an increase from the six IP cases decided in the Court’s last term, demonstrating a continued broad interest in copyright, trademarks, and patents. In its last term, the Court took on “expert” doctrines — such as exhaustion and first sale — in both the patent and copyright contexts. Through these boundary doctrines, the Court made clear its interest in sculpting the edges and limits of intellectual property laws.
One macro-level trend evident from the last term's decisions was the Supreme Court’s commitment to optimizing IP. The Court’s recent decision in Medtronic represents a continuation of that trend, clarifying that neither maximization nor minimization is the goal.
Some fear the Court's decisions in these cases could drastically disadvantage rights holders or, conversely, drastically disadvantage users of IP. But such a dramatic swing in either direction would be inconsistent with the approach taken by the Court in Medtronic —as well as decisions of the previous term.
Similar to Medtronic, the Supreme Court’s decisions last term showed both recognition of the need to protect incentives for innovation and of the countervailing concern that maximization cannot be the cornerstone policy objective for the IP system. Optimization, not minimization or maximization, was and continues to be the apparent goal.