The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled that a federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over a legal malpractice case arising from a patent infringement dispute. In Warrior Sports, Inc. v. Dickinson Wright, PLLC, a lacrosse equipment manufacturer sued its former attorney for negligent representation in a patent infringement case against another manufacturer. The client claimed that the attorney’s conduct diminished the value of its claim, which it settled prior to adjudication by the court.
The client sued for malpractice alleging that the attorney had (1) “mischaracterized the structure” of the lacrosse stick at issue in the patent application and (2) failed to pay the maintenance fee for the patent. The client claimed that these actions reduced the settlement value of the claim, from millions to the $275,000.00 that it received.
The original action was filed in Michigan, but was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Eastern Michigan. Federal courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction over patent based cases. However, the Michigan federal court dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the patent claims were merely tangential to the malpractice action.
The attorney appealed. The Appeals Court reversed and remanded the case to the District Court, ruling that there was federal jurisdiction because the patent law issues were essential to proving the causation element of the malpractice case. Those issues had never been adjudicated, since the case settled before trial. Thus, the district court had jurisdiction to decide the patent infringement issues.