[Disclaimer: Steve Brachmann is both the author of this post and the main author/researcher of the Center for IP Understanding study which is the focus of this article.]
A media study which will be released next week by the Center for IP Understanding (CIPU), titled Patterns in Media Coverage of Patent Disputes, outlines trends in recent media coverage of patent disputes. The study, which focused on coverage of patent infringement cases from 15 publications across business, tech and general news, finds that subjectivity in patent infringement coverage may be fostering a narrow view of patents and patent owners within their readership. This subjectivity calls into question the newsworthiness of patent infringement reporting among many major news outlets, including Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Ars Technica and more.
The CIPU study involved a survey of 127 articles on patent infringement published during 2016 across the 15 publications, each of which contributed a maximum of 10 articles to the survey. Some of the study’s key findings include:
- 42 percent of media coverage are advocacy pieces written by authors promoting a political or business agenda
- 57 percent of case coverage of patent infringement in technology publications provide a single point-of-view, either plaintiff or defendant
- 42.5 percent of patent infringement coverage in the sample features either Apple or Samsung
- 88.2 percent of the articles that use the term “patent troll” fall under the heading of highly subjective
- Tech publications provided twice as many mentions of the term troll as either business or general publications
In a number of ways, the CIPU media study highlights a high level of subjectivity among patent infringement coverage, starting with the fact that 42 percent of the articles surveyed were trend or op-ed pieces which weren’t reports on patent infringement cases but rather advocated a specific narrative or provided a commentary on the topic of patent infringement. There were also signs of subjectivity in the remaining coverage, which primarily featured articles reporting on individual cases, such as articles which included official statements from only one party in a case without at least reaching out to the other side for comment. This was most prevalent in tech news publications; 16 of 28 surveyed articles on specific cases from those publications only presented either the defendant’s side or a plaintiff’s side in a case.
Some of the findings from the CIPU media study are reflective of the kind of resources which various publications devote towards coverage of patent infringement cases. For example, 80 percent of surveyed articles published by Forbes were contributed not by staff writers but rather guest contributors with some connection to patents either through ownership or client relationships. This heavy use of guest authors also correlates strongly with subjective trend or op-ed coverage; nine of 10 surveyed Forbes articles fall under the trend/op-ed category. Fortune relied heavily on news wire services for its patent infringement coverage; 70 percent of its surveyed articles were contributed by Reuters. On the other end of the spectrum are publications like The Wall Street Journal, which contributed zero trend/op-ed pieces and at least reached out for comments from both defendants and plaintiffs in each case it covered.
Despite the hundreds of patent infringement cases filed every month in U.S. district courts over the past few years, nearly half of the patent infringement articles which reported on specific cases focused on either Apple or Samsung, or both. Slightly more than 15 percent of all articles surveyed, both trend/op-ed and specific case stories, focused on the design patent case between Apple and Samsung which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last December. Other cases receiving more active coverage also involved either Apple or Samsung as one of the parties in the case and a majority of the surveyed coverage on specific cases involved smartphone technologies.
One of the bigger takeaways from the CIPU media study is a strong correlation between articles which mention the term “patent troll” and the subjective nature of those articles. 17 of the 127 surveyed articles (13.4 percent) mention patent trolls. 10 of those articles are trend/op-ed pieces which craft a narrative or provide commentary without reporting on a specific case. Of the seven articles on specific patent infringement cases which employ the term patent troll, five of those mentions come in articles in which only the defendant’s point-of-view was reported. The term is mentioned twice in articles presenting viewpoints from both sides of a case and none of the surveyed articles presenting only the plaintiff’s viewpoint mentioned the term. Further, there are multiple examples of usage of that term in reports on the Federal Trade Commission’s study on patent assertion entities (PAEs), a study which called that term prejudicial.
The full CIPU media survey will be made available early next week and will be accessible through CIPU’s official website.