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Research in Motion (RIM), a high-technology company located in Ontario, Canada, sells the popular BlackBerry wireless electronic mail (email) service to consumers in the United States and abroad. Yet when the company first deployed the BlackBerry system in Canada back in the late 1990s, it had no idea that its service might some day be shut down for infringing an invention patented in the United States. RIM, like many other high-technology companies who sell products and services to a global marketplace, is discovering that its conduct outside the United States could violate United States patent law under 35 U.S.C. § 271. Congress enacted § 271 to proscribe extraterritorial conduct that affects commerce and patented rights within the United States. In NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) considered whether RIM’s BlackBerry system, a major component of which was deployed in Canada, infringed NTP, Inc.’s (NTP) patents on a wireless email system. The court held that RIM was liable for infringement because its users controlled and benefited from the system within the United States in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271. . . .
The need for asbestos-related legislative action is undisputed. Over 700,000 asbestos claims have already been filed with little sign of abatement. At present, the almost 300,000 claims before the courts imperil the system’s ability to provide victims with timely relief, and inadequate compensation is all but certain with over seventy defendant corporations now in bankruptcy. Such discouraging developments led the United States Supreme Court to push for a national alternate dispute resolution forum to assist with the overwhelming asbestos caseload, often referred to as an “elephantine mass.”
Congress responded with an amended form of the 2003 FAIR Act, proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy. The bill is novel in that it completely preempts personal injury tort claims involving asbestos related injuries. Claimants seeking to recover must file with an administrative bureaucracy, established solely to assess and distribute damages. This administrative body serves as trustee for a national trust fund financed by asbestos defendants through annual payments based on income and liability percentages. In order to recover, claimants must satisfy certain medical criteria, and damages are awarded or limited according to the illness incurred.
The FAIR Act bandages a wounded area of civil jurisprudence. It provides expeditious relief to asbestos victims, guarantees funding in place of insolvent defendants, reduces liability for potential defendants, and allows insurance companies to accurately assess the potential liability within an industry. These remedies are bittersweet, however, because the assignment of asbestos claims to administrative agencies, where litigants are not afforded fact-finding juries, is incompatible with the Seventh Amendment.
This Note will illustrate the applicability of the Seventh Amendment to personal injury asbestos tort actions. It will explain that this constitutional guarantee prohibits Congress from using non-Article III tribunals to abrogate jury trials in the context of asbestos tort cases. Moreover, this Note will prove that by undermining the Seventh Amendment, the FAIR Act sets alarming precedent and further threatens the role of the jury in American jurisprudence. . . .