In November 2012, the USITC completed the construction of a new, third courtroom for evidentiary hearings in the agency’s section 337 investigations, which usually involve allegations of patent and other intellectual property rights infringement. The long-awaited courtroom represents a further step in the Commission’s efforts to ensure that these often complicated investigations are conducted in a full, fair, and expeditious manner.
“We are grateful that Congress saw the need for this new courtroom and approved its acquisition. We are very proud that we could bring the project to fruition both early and under budget,” said USITC Chairman Irving A. Williamson. “The courtroom will benefit section 337 parties, our judges, and USITC staff.”
The USITC’s section 337 caseload has risen significantly over the last decade, with cases increasingly involving complex technologies and large numbers of parties. The agency responded to the challenges posed by these developments in a number of ways.
The USITC has expanded its complement of administrative law judges (ALJs) from four to six, reallocated resources, and reviewed and revised its section 337 investigative processes and procedures. The USITC continues to implement changes to improve the efficiency of its section 337 investigations.
In the last few years, it became apparent that the agency’s growing caseload put serious strains on its available space for section 337 trials, and trials sometimes displaced other Commission functions or required the agency to find hearing space outside the agency. ALJs cited the wait for courtroom space as a reason for longer target dates for the completion of the investigation in a number of cases. The Commission decided that a new courtroom would be needed for the USITC to meet its congressional mandate to complete section 337 investigations expeditiously.
The Commissioners decided early in the design process to take a cost-effective, technologically savvy approach to the new courtroom. The agency worked with experts from the Center for Legal and Court Technology (the Courtroom 21 Project) of the William and Mary School of Law in Williamsburg, Virginia, to design a courtroom that is at the forefront of current courtroom practice. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit also assisted in an advisory capacity.
“The new courtroom enables the judges and parties to focus their attention on presenting their cases rather than on ad hoc computer networking and makeshift technologies,” said Chairman Williamson. “Parties in section 337 investigations have shown an increasing need in recent years for modern technologies to present their cases. The Commission knew from its experiences with its existing courtrooms that it was smarter to invest in a courtroom that is technologically advanced at the outset rather than try to play catch up by installing needed technologies down the road.”
Among its attributes, the new courtroom is equipped with computer screens for all participants, providing convenient access to the visual presentations that are often crucial in intellectual property trials. The room also supports audio and video teleconferencing and has the capability to allow remote testimony and hearing/conference participation. Each seat is wired for power and video and network connectivity for electronic equipment. The audio-visual system provides high-quality sound, enhanced capabilities for displaying and annotating documents, and sophisticated techniques to protect confidential business information when trials move to the confidential record.
Visit the Courtroom C Photo Gallery for pictures of the new courtroom.