Between now and the end of June, when the court must decide all of
the cases argued since October, the nine justices will issue a
string of rulings on the viability of securities class action
lawsuits, the legal rules for patenting software and the fate of
online TV startup Aereo.
Those rulings could in some ways overshadow some of the cases that
touch upon social and political issues, which most often take center
stage this time of year.
Although the court still must decide such cases - protests outside
abortion clinics and religious objections to President Barack
Obama's healthcare law - none is as important as the 2012 opinion
that upheld the individual mandate of the healthcare law or the one
in 2013 helping to pave the way for gay marriage.
"There isn't a singular blockbuster," said Pratik Shah, a lawyer
with the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld law firm. But he said the
securities class action and software patent cases could have huge
ramifications for business.
In the securities case, Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, the court
could hand a sizable setback to the securities class action
plaintiffs' bar by making it harder to bring such lawsuits. The case
could give corporations better defenses at the preliminary class
certification stage of the litigation.
The patent case, Alice Corp v. CLS Bank, could tighten up
eligibility requirements for software patents, possibly curbing
litigation brought by so-called "patent trolls," defined as
companies that hold patents only for the purpose of suing firms
seeking to develop new products.
Oral arguments, heard in March, showed justices wary of broad
rulings in either case, but each still has the capacity to reshape
the law in their respective areas.
"They will be significant as much for how broadly they are written
as to who actually wins," said Kannon Shanmugam, a lawyer at
Williams & Connolly.
The case of Aereo, a company backed by media mogul Barry Diller's
IAC/InterActiveCorp, will likely have an impact on the television
industry. The online service that enables subscribers to watch
broadcast TV on mobile devices and computers, is accused by TV
networks of violating copyright law.
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A win for Aereo could spur innovation in the industry by paving the
way to new, cheaper ways for consumers to watch shows. It also could
threaten the estimated $3 billion in so-called retransmission fees
that broadcasters get from cable and satellite TV systems. If Aereo
loses, it could be forced to shut down.
Although sympathetic to the networks generally, the justices
signaled concern during oral argument in April that a ruling against
Aereo could threaten increasingly popular cloud computing services.
"There was no love lost for Aereo," said Shah, the Akin Gump lawyer.
The court has yet to decide other business cases such as an
industry-backed challenge to one of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's greenhouse gas regulations. An opinion is also
pending in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce questioning Obama
administration appointments to the National Labor Relations Board,
the government agency that conducts elections for unions and
investigates unfair labor practices.
In addition to the Aereo and software patent cases, the court has
several other intellectual property decisions to make, having heard
this term the highest proportion of intellectual property cases in
(Editing by Howard Goller and Grant McCool)
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