By Jason Rantanen
While this might not be the most newsworthy federal document archives story this week, it’s something that patent practitioners and others who practice before the Federal Circuit might want to take note of. Today the Federal Circuit issued an order in Miscellaenous Docket 2022-160, “In re: Unsealing of Court Case Records.” The order reads:
The court is in the process of accessioning its remaining paper case records to the National Archives and Records Administration for permanent retention. These records predate the court’s transition to its electronic case management filing system in 2012 and once transferred to the National Archives will remain in only paper format and will not be made available online. Pursuant to Federal Circuit Rule 25.1(a)(1), “[a]fter five years following the end of all proceedings in this court, the court may direct the parties to show cause why confidential filings (except those protected by statute) should not be unsealed and made available to the public.” Through the review of these records, the court has identified several cases containing confidential filings that remain under seal more than five years following the end of all proceedings.
The order goes on to direct parties to the identified cases to this order to show cause within 60 days as to why confidential material in those cases should not be unsealed, along with instructions for what to do. The order is followed by 60 pages of case docket numbers and names. Almost all of them arise from the district courts, but there are a few from other origins. You can access it here: https://cafc.uscourts.gov/wp-content/uploads/22-160.pdf (archived version: 22-160).
For context, in 2012 the Federal Circuit switched from an older version of the court electronic records system to a newer version. As a result, appeals filed prior to the transition without subsequent case activity are only in the older system. (Appeals filed before the transition but with activity after the transition show up in both systems.) Many of the older materials are only available in paper form, and if you’ve ever tried to get them you know that it is very expensive and difficult.
I was curious about what portion of appeals this order applied to, so I plugged the docket numbers from the order into the Federal Circuit Dataset Project to get a sense of what portion of cases this applied to. (The list of docket numbers from the order is linked here: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/FRHXWT). In total, there are 1,151 appeal numbers listed in the order (plus 3 duplicates). Of these, 1,122 matched an appeal docketed in 2000 or later that’s available in PACER; 16 don’t match a record that shows up in PACER (likely because the entire docket is confidential) and 13 involve appeals filed before 2000. The latest appeal was docketed in 2012, and most of the appeals listed were docketed between 2003 and 2010. Out of the 12,225 appeals docketed between 2000 and 2011, 977 show up on this list (about 8%).
However, most of the appeal dockets on the court’s list are appeals from the district courts, and those are only a portion of the court’s cases. Because these are records from the older generation of PACER, we don’t have as much information about them as for later appeals. (See this forthcoming article for details: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4162979.) However, when I combined the list in the court’s order with our document dataset, which goes back to late 2004, and limited it to opinions and Rule 36 summary affirmances issued between 2005 and 2012, it turned out that about 25% of appeal dockets arising from the district courts that resulted in an opinion or Rule 36 in those years were listed on the court’s order (517/1,459), with about the same percentage for appeals arising from the ITC (79 out of 305). This isn’t exclusive; there are some numbers on the list that didn’t result in an opinion or order. But there’s a good chance that if you had an appeal in a patent infringement case that resulted in an opinion or Rule 36 affirmance between 2000 and 2011, it’s on the court’s list.
Bottom line: this is a lot of appeal dockets, both just in raw numbers and as a fraction of appeals in patent infringement cases and from the CIT. The appeals were filed over a decade ago, and likely haven’t had any actions since 2012, but it may be worth a ctrl-F on the order to see whether your clients are impacted.
One thing that I do hope is that the court doesn’t de-accession the existing PACER docket search for pre-2012 cases. It provides only limited data and access to documents, but it’s the only publicly accessible directory or index for that information. As far as I know (and I’d love to be wrong!), there’s no existing paper analog.