Oil States Energy Services v. Greene's Energy Group (Argument Nov. 27, 2017)

Graphic Argument Explainer: Oil States Energy Services v. Greene's Energy Group (Supreme Court Nov. 27, 2017)

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Oil States Energy Services lost a patent in a process authorized by Congress (inter partes review). Its last hope to fight off the patent challenger (Greene's Energy Group) comes in the form of an abstract argument about the structure of government.

Oil States Energy claims the type of court that took away its patent - not a real judicial court but a court created by Congress - did not have the power to do so.

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The case comes down to evaluating the nature of a patent right. The law is a bit abstract on this issue, but our one-pager should get you the gist.

The court will decide if a patent right is within a particular category of rights that the Constitution requires to be adjudicated by the judicial branch (real "Article III" courts).

History of the Public Rights Doctrine

In case you want some examples to help color the two categories (individual rights versus "public rights"), two relatively modern cases that will serve as precedent for the Court are:

Both relate to the types of claims that a bankruptcy court (a non-"real" / non-judicial / non-Article III court) can resolve. Bankruptcy law is a public policy scheme created by Congress (the second category - public rights). In these cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the bankruptcy court must stick to evaluating bankruptcy issues. It cannot evaluate contract issues or tort issues like duress (which are individual rights).

By the way, the Stern v. Marshall case is the estate administrator to Anna Nicole Smith challenging the bankruptcy distribution of her husband's (J. Howard Marshall's) estate on grounds that the Marshall's son had gotten all the money by putting undue pressure on Marshall (duress) in the writing of the will. 

If you are really curious, the case that started this "public rights" doctrine was a case from 1856 in which a customs collector for the federal government kept more than $1 billion of the government's money. When the Treasury Department collected on it, he challenged saying a proper court had to be involved to take away his property. You can read more about Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Company, but it may not be the most helpful in squaring the doctrine with this patent law case.