The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established under Article III of the U.S. Constitution on October 1, 1982, with the passage of the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1982. The court was formed by the merger of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the U.S. Court of Claims. The court is located in the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building on historic Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.
The court’s work begins after the Clerk’s Office dockets a new appeal or petition and assigns a docket number. The parties to the cases then prepare and file written briefs to present their arguments. Parties also may submit materials such as transcripts of testimony and other relevant parts of the record made in the lower tribunal from which the appeal originated. Once all the briefs are filed, the appeal is randomly assigned to a panel comprised of three judges who are also selected randomly for assignment to the panels. Appeals are then scheduled for oral argument before the court or referred to the panel for consideration solely on the submitted filings.
Court sessions generally are held during the first week of each month in Washington, D.C. In most cases, each side is allotted 15 minutes for argument. During oral argument, counsel for the parties present their arguments and answer questions of the judges concerning the issues presented. If the court determines that oral argument is unnecessary, the case is decided by a panel of judges based on the arguments presented in the briefs. In each appeal, the presiding judge of the panel assigns a member of the panel to prepare the court’s opinion. The opinion sets out the decision of the court and the reasons for the decision. Parties may seek review of a decision of the Federal Circuit in the Supreme Court of the United States.
If the panel determines that its decision will add significantly to a body of law, it issues a precedential opinion. Decisions that do not add significantly to the body of law are issued as nonprecedential. All opinions are made available to the public and may be obtained from the court’s website, the Federal Reporter 3rd Series, PACER (external), the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s service (external), and commercial legal publishers and research sources.