The Iowa College of Law hosted Judge Kathleen M. O’Malley as the jurist-in-residence from April 6 – 8, 2016.  During her visit, students met with the judge one-on-one, heard her speak on the history of the Federal Circuit, appellate advocacy and judicial clerkships, and socialized with the judge and Iowa attorneys.

Judge O’Malley was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 2010 after serving as a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio for sixteen years.  She is a strong voice on the Federal Circuit, and the positions taken in both her majority and dissenting opinions are often adopted by the United States Supreme Court.

Importance of federal courts on patent law

Federal courts operate at several levels, with most matters originating at the district court level.   Federal district courts exist in every state, and are typically located based on geographic and demographic characteristics of a given district. For example, there are two districts in the state of Iowa: the Southern District and Northern District.

Decisions at the district court level can be appealed to the federal appellate courts.  The fourteen Courts of Appeals are divided into “circuits.”  Most circuits cover a designated geographic region consisting of multiple states. Iowa lies within the 8th Circuit, which also includes the Dakotas, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska.  The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) is unusual, in that its jurisdiction is defined based on subject matter rather than geography.  It has the responsibility (among others) of hearing virtually all appeals related to patents in the United States.

The last few years have been a time of change and shift in patent law. Between the America Invents Act, signed into law on September 16, 2011, and greater Supreme Court interest in patent law, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has faced the challenging task of attempting to sew together the old and the new in our patent system. Hearing decisions from District Courts, the Patent & Trademark Office, and a number of other sources, the CAFC contains some of the country’s foremost judicial experts on the patent system.

Judge O’Malley’s visit

During her three-day visit at the College of Law, Judge O’Malley discussed an array of topics, from intellectual property law to her experiences as a trial and appellate judge.   She began the visit with a talk to the Intellectual Property Law Society on the Federal Circuit and patent law’s development over the past several decades.  Her talk wove together the history of the Federal Circuit and her own experiences on the bench.  On Thursday, Judge O’Malley spoke to first year law students about appellate advocacy, written and oral.  She offered both big picture thoughts and concrete suggestions about preparation to the students, from the necessity of knowing the record to ideas about note preparation.  Before leaving on Friday, Judge O’Malley also spoke to a group of students interested in judicial clerkships about both the clerkship process generally and in her chambers. 

During her visit, Judge O’Malley also met with students in one-on-one meetings and engaged with students over breakfast.  A highlight of her visit was a reception sponsored by the IBL Center at Hearth restaurant.  Attending students and members of local intellectual property bar mingled and chatted with the judge over dinner.