Students Observe Moot Court Session for Landmark IP Case
Second-year law student Chris Clayton was among the hundreds of students who recently attended a moot court session in which law faculty helped a St. Louis attorney prepare his oral argument before the Supreme Court of the United States.
“It was a rare opportunity to learn how arguments before the Supreme Court are crafted, both in the brief and oral arguments,” Clayton says. “I learned that one of the most significant challenges to writing a Supreme Court brief is controlling the scope of the argument. Because the standard set by the court becomes controlling precedent, a favorable ruling for your side must be grounded in a standard that is applicable to cases beyond the facts of your case.”
The case, Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health Fitness, Inc., was argued by Harness, Dickey & Pierce attorney Rudy Telscher. Alumnus Steven Holtshouser, JD ’83, who recently joined Harness, Dickey & Pierce, arranged for the moot at his alma mater.
“As soon as cert was granted in this case, it occurred to me that several moots would be in order, and I immediately thought Washington University would be an excellent venue,” Holtshouser says. “Not many St. Louis practitioners get the opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court, so this is not an everyday opportunity.”
Telscher argued before a panel of eight professors. Panel members were Scott Baker, professor of law and professor of economics; Charles Burson, senior lecturer; Pauline Kim, the Charles Nagel Professor of Law; Bruce La Pierre, professor of law and director, Appellate Clinic; Greg Magarian, professor of law; Mary Perry, lecturer in law and director of externships; and Neil Richards, professor of law.
Burson, La Pierre, and Perry have experience arguing cases before the Supreme Court; La Pierre also argued many cases in the United States Courts of Appeals for six different circuits. Magarian clerked on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for Judge Louis Oberdorfer and on the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens, and Richards clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Kim clerked for Judge Cecil Poole on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Baker clerked for Judge E. Grady Jolly on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. All are acknowledged experts in their fields.
“I was so happy that the faculty stepped up for this event and provided such a realistic environment,” Holtshouser says. “They spent their time to be prepared on the briefs and the record. Their questions were excellent preparation to argue the case before the court.”
Kevin Collins, professor of law, opened with a 15-minute presentation, “Patent Troll 101,” which provided a brief overview of a key issue at the heart of the patent law case. Telscher then took the floor, arguing his case for 30 minutes while fielding questions from the panel. Collins provided a 15-minute rebuttal, followed by another 10 minutes for Telscher.
Magarian says that he was very pleased by the event. “We had a big crowd, everyone was prepared, and the arguments had that energy you get when everyone brings his or her A game,” he says. “Associate Dean for Student Services Elizabeth Walsh did a fantastic job putting it together, and I thought Kevin did an outstanding job framing the issues and getting everyone primed for the argument.”
“Playing the part of a Supreme Court justice made me more fully appreciate the work of the justices, who have to develop deep knowledge of a very wide range of legal issues in order to test the arguments of highly expert advocates, like Telscher,” Kim says. “It was a tremendous opportunity for the students to observe a very high level of argument on an issue with important policy implications.”
Marc Hendel, a first-year law student in Kim’s Civil Procedure class, agrees. “I loved the Supreme Court moot session,” he says. “I had never before witnessed Supreme Court oral arguments, and I didn't know there would be so many rapid-fire exchanges. Watching the arguments was both a learning and a motivational experience.”
For Holtshouser, the moot session was important because Octane Fitness will have far-reaching implications. “The case is being watched closely by businesses, attorneys, and inventors around the country,” he says. “Leading patent law commentators have something to say about it almost daily. If we succeed in changing litigation practice in patent infringement cases, as we hope, Washington University will have played a valuable part.”