Exactly Backwards: Exceptionalism and the Federal Circuit

Document Type



This short essay critically evaluates the current proposals, most closely associated with Dan Burk and Mark Lemley, that the patent law should increasingly become technology-specific - that is, that the law should reflect different rules for different technological areas or industries. I make three points. The first is to point out that descriptive claims of a fundamental technological-exceptionalism (what I call "macro-exceptionalism") in the patent law are not well supported, once one sets aside the small factual variability ("micro-exceptionalism") built into the legal standards. Second, using empirical data from the development of claim construction jurisprudence and the patterns of en banc proceedings at the Federal Circuit, I argue that the major trends in the patent law run directly counter to macro-exceptionalist claims. Finally, in considering the public policy issues raised by the calls for a judicially created technological-exceptionalism, I conclude that the most successful approach is, indeed, exactly backwards of that suggested by the proponents of technological-specificity in the patent law.

Date of Authorship for this Version

April 2005


Patents, Technological Specificity, Exceptionalism