In October, the 2023 IP Fall Institute, sponsored by the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law ("IPL"), hosted an online conversation with Judge Pauline Newman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. IPL section chair Steven Caltrider, vice president and chief intellectual property counsel at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, spoke to Judge Newman in her chambers.
This wide-ranging conversation discussed Judge Newman’s past and potential future, including her service as a former ABA IPL committee chair; her reputation as the “great dissenter;” what she looks for in amicus briefs; and her possibly sitting by designation with other courts. Access to the complete interview may be found here, but below are some highlights from the conversation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established in 1982. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, Judge Newman was the first judge confirmed to the newly created court. Today, at 96 years old, she is the oldest Article III judge and one of only two federal judges with a Ph.D. in science. Judge Newman is currently suspended from new case assignments in the Federal Circuit, a decision being reviewed by the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, but that did not stop her from sharing her professional experiences with ABA listeners.
Section Chair Caltrider asked Judge Newman about her past ABA membership, including as chair of the Patent System Planning committee that advocated for some of the policy in support of the creation of the Federal Circuit. Judge Newman discussed how beneficial it is for in-house counsel to become active in the ABA to advance the legal profession and the country’s public policy goals.
Judge Newman has been called the “heroine of the patent system” and is fondly known as pioneer for women in law, having received her law degree from New York University in 1958. Since the 1980s, she has hired many women as judicial law clerks. One of these first law clerks, Dr. Nancy Linck, went on to serve as U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Solicitor and later served in ABA leadership roles. Judge Newman explained that she always tried to hire the “the smartest, most talented, most dedicated” candidates. They were often women.
When asked about her reputation as the “great dissenter,” Judge Newman explained that dissenting came “more or less naturally” to her because she was raised in a family that was always arguing about right and wrong. She stated that judicial dissents can be a powerful teaching tool and can greatly help the public and students better understand the court’s reasoning. She noted, “it’s better not to pull your punches . . . because if you are too polite, you may not get your point across.”
When thinking about the future, Judge Newman expressed her interest in sitting by designation in other courts. She recounted the “edifying experience” of sitting by designation with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit several years ago. Other Federal Circuit judges have also sat by designation in the district courts, for example, hearing patent infringement trials. Newman did not disclose her precise plans.
Judge Newman started advocating for policy changes and improvements to the patent arena early in her legendary career and then continued to educate practitioners from the bench for decades. It is unclear what may be in her future, but Judge Newman’s longtime support for the ABA, her efforts to improve the patent system, and her impact on the legal profession remain inspirational.