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Top 3 Cases for Small Businesses at the Supreme Court This Term

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Most entrepreneurs have a laser focus on their companies, and that doesn't leave a whole lot of time to keep up with the latest legal cases. (After all, that's what they pay their attorneys for.) But small business owners are going to have a big interest in what's going on in the Supreme Court this term, with cases touching on just about every aspect running a business, from employee unions to customer discrimination to patent and intellectual property law.

Here are the three biggest:

1. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31

Back in March, the Seventh Circuit issued a curt dismissal of a First Amendment challenge to public sector "agency shops," under which all employees had to pay some portion of union dues, even if they didn't join or support the union. The reasoning behind the dues is that even non-union members benefit from union organizing and collective bargaining, so they should cover the cost of those activities. The reasoning behind the dismissal is that the Supreme Court already decided the matter 40 years ago, and only the Supreme Court could overturn its own ruling.

2. Oil States Energy Services, LLC v. Greene's Energy Group, LLC

If you haven't heard of "inter partes review," you can thank your lucky stars you haven't been in a serious patent dispute. Inter partes allows patent ownership fights to potentially skip the time and cost of a federal court war, and instead battle in front of a panel of judges at the Patent Office who conduct decide whether the patent should have been issued in the first place. The Supreme Court will decide if the process is legal.

3. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

It's the first of many cases involving businesses denying service to customers based on their gender or sexual orientation to wind its way to the Supreme Court. (Justices declined to hear a similar case in 2014, leaving a lower court ruling against a wedding photography business intact.) The composition of the Court is a little different these days.

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