Grace Obermann – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) is seeing rapid turnover currently, largely the result of stalled nominations during the Obama Administration and unforced errors by the Trump Administration.  However, Grace Obermann, who is an administrative judge, should sail onto the CFC bench.

Background

Obermann was born Grace Stewart Karaffa in Rahway, NJ in 1961.  She received a B.A. from Rutgers University in 1984, and her J.D. from the George Washington University Law School in 1989.[1]  After graduation, Obermann joined Fish & Neave’s New York City Office.[2]

In 1990, Obermann completed a clerkship for Judge Raymond Clevenger on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and then joined the Department of Justice Commercial Litigation Branch, rising to become Assistant Director of the Intellectual Property Section.[3]  In 2012, she moved to the McLean, VA office of Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey LLP, where she was of counsel.[4] 

In 2012, Obermann returned to D.C. to be an administrative patent judge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.[5]  She currently holds that position.

History of the Seat

Obermann has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC), an Article I court that hears monetary claims against the federal government.  Judges to the CFC are appointed for 15-year terms, and can be reappointed.  The seat Obermann was nominated for opened up on July 13, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Susan Braden.

In June 2019, Obermann’s name was forwarded by a former high school classmate to be considered for appointment to the CFC. Obermann interviewed with the White House in early July, and was nominated on October 3, 2019.[6] 

Legal Experience

Obermann’s career has largely focused on intellectual property law, approaching this from both the federal government and private practice sides.  In her career, Obermann has tried approximately 20 cases.  Among her more prominent cases, Obermann defended a patent infringement case filed by Exxon alleging that the United States had infringed its patents for synthesizing alternative fuels.[7]  After a grant of summary judgment in their favor and an appeal, Obermann’s client, the United States, ultimately settled the case for $2583, significantly less than the $400,000,000 value in open court.[8]

Judicial Experience

Since 2012, Obermann has served as an Administrative Patent Judge with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO).  In this role, Obermann conducts administrative patent trials and resolves disputes and challenges.  Since 2017, Obermann has also sat on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which serves as an appellate review court for trial decisions.  In her tenure, Obermann has overseen over 300 trial proceedings.[9]

Overall Assessment

Obermann’s extensive experience with administrative law and particularly with issues of intellectual property should serve her well on this highly specialized court.  Unlike some other CFC nominees, Obermann likely will have few issues regarding experience and will be confirmed with bipartisan support.


[1]  Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Grace Obermann: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See id.

[6] See Obermann, supra n. 1 at 47-48.

[7] Exxon Research & Eng’g Co. v. United States, 265 F.3d 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

[8] See Obermann, supra n. 1 at 35.

[9] See id. at 12.

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