Harvard Law School Hosts Federal Circuit Court Arguments

While the buildings of Harvard Law School are often the site of academic legal debate, Austin Hall saw a rarer occurrence Thursday: members of the federal bench hearing oral arguments in real cases.

Austin Hall
Judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard arguments on Thursday afternoon in Austin Hall at Harvard Law School. Open to the public, the Thursday event featured cases involving trade laws, vaccines, and technology patents.

Judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard 30-minute oral arguments for a series of patent and technology law appeals in a public event that was guarded by police officers and security personnel.

In a series of four cases, the panel of three judges heard oral arguments on topics ranging from neurological damage allegedly related to a vaccination to patents on cardiac defibrillators. The Law School was one of several Boston-area locations to host oral arguments for the court, which has sole jurisdiction on federal district court patent law cases and often hears appeals related areas of law like intellectual property.

The first case, Hirmiz v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, focused on the neurological degeneration of a young child. The appellants argued that a flu vaccination was the cause of the damage, a claim which the appellees contested.

“She was clearly injured by the flu shot,” said John McHugh, the lawyer who represented the girl’s parents.


The second case, Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Zoll Medical Corporation, revolved around the question of patents for defibrillators. The largely procedural and technical argument was at times interrupted by moments of levity from the lawyers and judges.

“Fortunately, we haven’t heard anything here that is shocking,” Judge Alan D. Lourie ’56 said to laughs at the end of arguments about the resuscitation devices.

In the third case, SightSound Tech, LLC v. Apple Inc., judges heard arguments on the validity of SightSound’s patents on electronic music distribution. Apple’s iTunes service was accused of infringement by SightSound, which is contesting two previous decisions that effectively rendered its patents useless.

The final case involved an appeal to the court by Globus Medical, Inc. which claimed that it had not infringed on the intellectual property of private doctor Sabatino Bianco. Bianco claimed that Globus illegally reproduced an artificial medical device he designed to repair spinal injuries.

Attorneys for Globus pressed that though their client had capitalized on Bianco’s initial idea, Bianco had not contributed to the actual development of the product.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.


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