A recent research report by Professor Catherine Tucker, titled The Effect of Patent Litigation and Patent Assertion Entities on Entrepreneurial Activityhas received wide publicity. The report purports to document suppression of Venture Capital (VC) investments due to litigation by so-called “patent trolls” – or Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), which Professor Tucker identifies as “frequent patent litigators” – patentees that have caused more than 20 “instances of a patent being litigated” in a span of 17 years (p31-32). Professor Tucker arrives at a startling conclusion: VC investment would have been about $22 billion higher over the course of five years “but for litigation brought by frequent patent litigators” (p36) – suggesting that enforcement of patents can frustrate the goal of the Patent Act. In other words, the law of innovation ostensibly works against itself.
A footnote in the report’s front page discloses that the source of funding for this particular study was provided by an organization that has a substantial interest in the study’s outcome – the Computers and Communication Industry Association (CCIA). It may come as no surprise that Professor Tucker’s conclusions happen to fall in line with this organization’s previously-articulated beliefs that patents block new technology development. It is also noteworthy that Google, a prominent member of the CCIA, has also provided Professor Tucker with $155,000 of funding since 2009. In a June 2014 press release announcing this study, CCIA attorney Matt Levy proclaimed:
“For the first time, we have an economic model proving patent reform is not a zero sum game between protecting intellectual property and reducing abusive patent litigation … Professor Tucker’s research reveals the harms of skewing the patent system too far in favor of protecting low-quality patents.”
Over the past several years the U.S. Supreme Court has slowly, but consistently, eroded what is considered patent-eligible, most recently with decisions on software and gene patents. In essence, the universe of patentable innovations has been diminished. And with it, the country’s economic potential.
Innovation is a powerful economic force and driver of both development and prosperity. Yet the Supreme Court’s recent decisions undermine the incentives to innovate in areas critical to future U.S. economic growth. Reducing the patent-eligible landscape in this way essentially eliminates any future U.S. contribution in these areas. Fundamentally it is an issue of incentives and their power to shape behavior.
Incentives are essential to innovation due to the expense of research and development activities, and the public-goods nature of the resulting knowledge. As described by Belleflamme (2006), intellectual property (IP) generating activities suffer from three generic sources of market failure: externalities, indivisibilities and uncertainty. The externalities arise from the public-goods nature of information, which makes imitation is easier than invention. Information and knowledge are public good in the sense that they are non-rival in consumption and non-excludable. In addition, intellectual property markets are characterized by indivisibility since knowledge and information are inherently discrete. Finally, knowledge creation involves tremendous uncertainty and risk.
In this final segment of my conversation with Ray Niro we discuss the politics of patents, starting with the reality that the Obama Administration has for some time adopted the view of Google and other similarly situated tech companies that seem comfortable with an ever weakening patent system. We also discuss the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, as well as the continuing and alarming trend toward expanding the definition of patent ineligible subject matter.
QUINN: Given that the Obama Administration is already out in front anti-NPE, anti-patent troll, and seems to be taking the Google philosophy which is who their advisors are, it seems to me foolish to think the Patent Office is going to moderate that decision and limit it narrowly.
NIRO: Right. The Administration has become a shill for Google — you even have a Google person running the Patent Office. So you have a situation where any number of patents, tens of thousands of patents, are going to be affected by Alice and also by the Limelight decision on split infringement.
The IP Law Summit will be held from September 14, 2014, through September 16, 2014, at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Palm Beach, Florida. The event will bring together senior IP Counsel from large corporations and mid-market organizations with service providers. The Summit is an invitation-only event that will take place behind closed doors.
Generally speaking, “intellectual property” is probably best thought of (at least form a conceptual standpoint) as creations of the mind that are given the legal rights often associated with real or personal property. The rights that are obtained by the creator are a function of statutory law (i.e., law created by the legislature). These statutes may be federal or state laws, or in some instance both federal and state law govern various aspect of a single type of intellectual property.
The term intellectual property itself is now commonly used to refer to the bundle of rights conferred by each of the following fields of law: (1) patent law; (2) copyright law; (3) trade secret law; (4) the right of publicity; and (5) trademark and unfair competition law. Some people confuse these areas of intellectual property law, and although there may be some similarities among these kinds of intellectual property protection, they are different and serve different purposes.
Recently I interviewed Ray Niro. Our wide ranging discussion touched on all things patent, we first discussed the announcement that Niro, Haller & Niro is now doing patent infringement defense on a flat fee basis. We wrap up our discussion of this new defense business model for the patent litigation industry below. We then transition into a discussion about fee shifting in patent litigation, first discussing the recently failed patent reform and then moving into a discussion of the Supreme Court fee shifting cases from the October 2013 term.
QUINN: How many lawyers do you have at your firm currently?
NIRO: 28. Between 28 and 31 most of the time. We are in the process of adding a few, so we’re I think 28 now; we’ll probably be 31 in the fall.
QUINN: Okay. And the reason that I ask that is because I suspect that as this word gets out that you’re doing this that you’re probably going to see a lot of interest. And how do you envision things developing? Are you going to be able to grow? Are you going to try and choose cases, which cases you can get involved with? What’s the mechanical process?
We always make sure to pay good attention to the major developers of consumer technologies here in the Companies We Follow series, and IPWatchdog is back with an in-depth look at the innovations recently stemming from AT&T. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has published many patent applications and has also issued plenty of patents assigned to this corporation in recent weeks. Our most recent search of AT&T patent filings showed us a great deal of intriguing improvements to wireless communication products and services.
We begin today by sharing our featured patent application with our readers, a technology designed to create a privacy zone to disable unauthorized functions in mobile devices which are within the zone. This would enable a meeting administrator to ensure that smartphone device owners cannot produce a recording of a meeting from within the privacy zone, for example. Other patent applications we explore discusses systems for transmitting calls and messages to the proper destination device for more effective communication between those who own multiple devices, as well as a system for better providing local advertisements to device owners who are on the go.