What is lacking from the debate over “patent trolls” is the “other side” of the story. In other words- who is benefiting from large multinational high tech companies being forced to deal with claims of infringement against them?
The major beneficiaries are not the patent trolls- but the thousands of single patent owners and small high tech start ups who for the first time ever-are able to monetize the enormous investments in time, money and ingenuity that they have made in their inventions.
The fact is- today, small patent owner and small tech start ups have real options to liquidate their intellectual property assets that they didn’t have before Intellectual Ventures and Acacia Research Group entered the market in the mid-2000s. If patent trolls sue big companies- then the owners of these patents were able to liquidate their investments. When the multinationals have to worry about these entities suing them it is good for the owners of the patents.
Patent trolls are not bad for them. That’s for sure.
The Federal Trade Commission has extended the deadline for public comments on its proposed study of patent assertion entities (PAEs), which it announced on September 27. To provide additional time for interested parties to submit comments on the proposed study, the deadline has been extended throughDecember 16, 2013. The Commission will not consider requests for further extension. Comments can be submitted electronically.
PAEs are firms with a business model based primarily on buying patents and then attempting to generate revenue by asserting the intellectual property against persons who are already practicing the patented technologies. The FTC is conducting the study in order to further one of the agency’s key missions — to examine cutting-edge competition and consumer protection topics that may have a significant effect on the U.S. economy.
In testimony presented to a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee the Federal Trade Commission described its ongoing efforts to protect competition and consumers in many important sectors of the economy, including health care, pharmaceuticals, and technology.
Testifying on behalf of the FTC before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Laws, Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said that, “In an effort to be most effective with limited resources, we pay particular attention to sectors where our action will provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of consumers. Chief among those are health care and the technology sector.”
The testimony outlines the FTC’s critical work promoting competition in health care markets, noting that health care consolidation can threaten to undermine efforts to control rising health care costs. Examples of FTC actions to prevent anticompetitive health care mergers include litigation involving proposed hospital mergers that threaten higher prices and lower quality of care, as well as divestitures in pharmaceutical mergers to preserve competition and maintain competitive pricing for needed medications.
This paper proposes amending 35 U.S.C. 271 Infringement of Patent with elements drawn from § 2-403 of UCC Article 2, Sale of Goods, and with elements of the Patent Exhaustion Doctrine. This amendment, if enacted, would prevent patent trolls from proceeding against Bona Fide Purchasers for Value with respect to certain specific infringements, in order to strengthen consumer confidence in the marketplace, by ensuring that vendors can deliver the products that they sell, free of threats of patent infringement litigation against such innocent buyers.
In their article entitled The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls, James Bessen, Jennifer Ford, and Michael Meurer present a study on patent litigation involving Non Practicing Entities (NPEs), which they define as firms that do not produce goods but rather acquire patents in order to license them to others. Bessen et al.’s conclusions are startling. The loss to defendants involved in NPE patent suits during the last four years “exceeds $83 billion per year, over a quarter of U.S. industrial R&D spending per annum;” and NPE patent litigation constitutes a “very large disincentive to innovation.” Bessen et al.’s article was prominently featured on the cover of the Winter 2011-2012 issue of Regulation magazine with a cover illustration of oversized humanoids with visible malign intent, armed with clubs, holding up innocent travelers for payment at a bridge, wherein the cover is titled “Patent Trolls – How NPEs harm innovation.”
In my full article “Questionable science will misguide patent policy,” I expose fundamental flaws in the methods that Bessen et al. apply in their studies and explain why their fantastic cost estimates should be dismissed as extremely biased and unreliable, and why their conclusions should be discarded as misleading for patent policy. An abridged version follows.
Bessen et al.’s stock return event studies on patent litigation
Bessen et al.’s thesis is predicated on “event studies” of lawsuit filings—what happens to an alleged infringer’s stock price around the filing of a patent infringement lawsuit, after taking into account general market trends and random fluctuations of the individual stock. Without providing any proof, these authors argue that during these “events,” stock value declines that are otherwise unaccounted for by estimated market trends (called “Abnormal Return”), reflect “the costs of lost business, management distraction and diversion of productive resources that might result from the lawsuit, possible payments needed to settle the suit, and the reduction in expectations of profits from future opportunities that are forestalled or foreclosed because of the suit.”
Enter Professor Robin Feldman, who has become the preeminent researcher on issues of patent litigation, particularly as it refers to so-called patent monetizers. Professor Feldman has found striking new data on patent trolling and the effects of the America Invents Act, which to me suggests that the AIA has clearly been successful in its intended goal of reducing the number of defendants in a single patent infringement litigation.
Professor Feldman’s new analysis was developed by breaking down the massive data set she collected into a month-by-month analysis of patent infringement lawsuits. The data examines all patent lawsuits over four key years, which represents approximately 15,000 patent infringement lawsuits and 30,000 patents asserted. Not surprisingly to those of us who have closely followed the America Invents Act, but there was an enormous spike in litigation leading up to the implementation of the AIA in September 2011. The following graph tells the story.
Washington, D.C. (October 10, 2013) – The App Developers Alliance is joining with law schools nationwide to help startups battle patent trolls. The Law School Patent Troll Defense Network is a consortium of law school clinics that will provide free legal representation to small app developers and other entrepreneurs that have been threatened or sued by patent trolls. Clinics participating in the Network may also represent the Alliance in major patent cases affecting developers and the app community.
“Too many smash-and-grab patent trolls think startups and small companies are easy roadkill on their path to amassing a portfolio of settlement payments, revenue-share agreements, and equity stakes,” said Alliance President Jon Potter. “By providing free legal services to entrepreneurs that cannot afford quality representation, the Troll Defense Network will help innovators fight back and continue to build great products and create jobs.”
Due to economic constraints and fear, small companies often ignore patent assertion letters or negotiate directly with trolls, without the benefit of legal counsel. Some app publishers have dramatically changed their business and have quashed innovative product features in response to trolls’ assertion letters – though legal counsel may have advised them to stand strong and fight back.
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