“The ITC must decide to uphold its duty, step in, and investigate the blatantly illegal actions of Samsung. The Commission took a step in the right direction during the Comcast-TiVo litigation, and it needs to keep moving forward.”
Editor’s note: The author is a director at Pictos.
Last week, years of arguing and contention came to an end. The fight I’m referring to was not a political campaign, but that doesn’t make its impact on our country any less significant – it’s a victory that everyone can celebrate.
Finally, the long-running patent litigation battle between TiVo and Comcast is over. Comcast had infringed TiVo’s patents and, to put it simply, was bullying the smaller company by weaponizing their larger legal team. Eventually, the International Trade Commission (ITC) stepped in and the two companies were able to reach a new, long-term licensing agreement. In doing this, a crucial precedent was potentially set – it will arguably harder for massive companies to take advantage of smaller ones.
The Pictos Story
Still, we can’t allow this encouraging behavior to be a one-time decision. Fortunately, the ITC has another opportunity to step in and protect another small company that’s been victimized. You might not know Pictos by name, but, in the early 2000s, it was a worldwide leader in a major technology. In fact, its technology is likely in your smartphone, tablet, computer, video monitors, and car. An American company, Pictos invented and pioneered the miniature CMOS-based cameras now sold in the billions worldwide.
While you may not be familiar with Pictos, I have no doubt that you know the name Samsung. The tech giant has a history of intellectual property (IP) conflict. In fact, Pictos was put out of business by the massive Asian company’s blatant violation of its patents and industrial espionage. Samsung, not an American company, now dominates the market for the CMOS-based cameras. This should have been an American industry employing thousands of Americans.
Samsung also has a history of litigating to death any small company that challenges it. In 2016, a Texas jury found that Samsung “willfully” infringed Pictos’ technology and awarded them infringement damages. The district court also awarded treble damages to Pictos and, citing Samsung’s wanton behavior at trial, awarded them $7 million in legal fees. Still, the verdict didn’t stop Samsung from continuing its tradition of stealing from smaller companies, getting sued and deploying its massive legal team.
Samsung, with its legion of lawyers, filed countless motions in different jurisdictions. It lost over and over. Finally, it went to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Remarkably, and in what is widely considered a bizarre decision, that court invalidated the patents at issue, overruling the Texas jury, the district court judge, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Congress Steps In
Samsung’s perverse behavior is finally starting to catch the eye of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, though. This week, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) wrote a letter to ITC Chairman Jason Kearns. Senator Crapo wrote, “The ITC was created to protect the rights of inventors and patent holders. Pictos is a small American company suffering abuse from a large multinational corporation. Lacking other viable alternatives, they have appealed to the ITC to seek judgment and relief from international violations of [their] patent rights.”
The need for this investigation represents more than just Pictos’ victimization – this investigation represents our willingness to protect all of the small, innovative American companies that have been drowned out by big, foreign tech corporations. Our economy already loses between $225 and $600 billion to Chinese IP theft every year. Particularly right now, as we continue our economic recovery from COVID-19, these are losses that we simply can’t afford.
How many more jobs, industries, and ideas are we going to surrender to foreign competitors before we act? Pictos invented and pioneered a miniature camera that is still used today. These cameras should be a major American industry doing tens of billions of dollars a year and employing tens of thousands of Americans. However, it is not. And not because Americans did not out-innovate and out-compete. They did. And, sadly, this Pictos case is only one of countless stories.
The ITC has a critical decision to make, and President-elect Biden has an important opportunity. The ITC must decide to uphold its duty, step in, and investigate the blatantly illegal actions of Samsung. The Commission took a step in the right direction during the Comcast-TiVo litigation, and it needs to keep moving forward.
President-elect Joe Biden also has the opportunity to keep a promise that he repeatedly made on the campaign trail and immediately send a message to the American people – that he truly is willing and ready to fight for the little guy. This fight isn’t just about two companies, this fight is about the future of American innovation.
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