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Subject matter jurisdiction focuses on the type of claim involved. A court must possess both personal jurisdiction over the defendant and subject matter jurisdiction over the claim before litigation on the merits begins. Subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at the very end of a litigation. Defects in the subject matter jurisdiction may be raised on collateral attack after judgment has become final. The court may make its own motion regarding subject matter jurisdiction.

Patents, copyrights, trademarks, antitrust regulations, and SEC actions under rule 10b-5 can only be tried in federal courts. Note: State courts have concurrent jurisdiction for common law claims arising out of contracts (etc.) involving patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Most states use specialized courts for dealing with probate, and marriage disputes. The rest of the courts are usually divided by monetary limitations (small claims, municipal, and superior courts). State courts are usually courts of general jurisdiction. This means that any type of claim may be brought to the court, except for those within the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; there must be some statutory grant of authority by Congress vesting federal courts with subject matter jurisdiction.

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