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Posts Tagged: "Ebay v. Mercexchange"

J.E.M.: The Supreme Court’s Last Expansion of Patent Protection, 20 Years Ago

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that plants could be protected with utility patents. J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc., v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. 534 U.S. 124. This landmark decision, originating in the agricultural heartland of Iowa, was the last time the Supreme Court effectively increased patent protection for inventors and patent owners. Most, if not all, of the Supreme Court’s patent rulings in the past two decades have not been favorable to patent owners. Rather, these “recent” decisions have restricted patent rights and made it more difficult to enforce these rights against infringers.

How Patents Enable Mavericks and Challenge Incumbents

Advocates for “patent reform” have long argued that reducing patent protection will open up markets and accelerate innovation by lowering entry barriers and expanding access to existing technologies. Yet, over 15 years of patent reform since the landmark 2006 decision in eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange LLC, followed by enactment of the America Invents Act in 2011, we have witnessed the rise of a technology ecosystem led by a handful of dominant platforms. In my recently published book, Innovators, Firms and Markets: The Organizational Logic of Intellectual Property, I show that this outcome should not be surprising. Almost 120 years of U.S. patent and antitrust history (1890-2006) indicate that reducing patent protection can often shield incumbents against the entry threats posed by smaller firms that have strong capacities to innovate but insufficient resources to transform innovations into commercially viable products and services.

Masters Offer Hope for Patents Despite Current Challenges

Experts speaking during IPWatchdog’s Virtual Patent Masters Symposium yesterday expressed concern over the state of the U.S. patent system, but also offered a number of solutions, and many took a cautiously optimistic outlook for the future. In one session, Patent Masters Q. Todd Dickinson of Polsinelli, Judge Theodore Essex of Hogan Lovells, Retired Chief Judge Paul Michel, and Robert Stoll of Drinker Biddle discussed the Supreme Court case eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, wherein the former bright line rule of issuing permanent injunctions was replaced by a four-factor test according to familiar rules of equity that apply to all areas of law. While the consensus among the Masters was that eBay has created a multitude of problems, Judge Michel pointed out that eBay has been misinterpreted by the district courts.

Trademark Modernization Act Would Restore Presumption of Irreparable Harm in Trademark Cases

Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representatives Hank Johnson (D-GA), Doug Collins (R-GA), Martha Roby (R-AL) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY) yesterday introduced legislation to modernize the U.S. trademark system. The Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 is in part a response to the surge in fraudulent trademark filings, largely originating from China, that both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and Congress have been grappling with over the last year. Perhaps most notably, in a stated effort to better protect consumers by minimizing confusion about goods and services, the bill would restore the rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm when a trademark violation has been proven (thus clarifying eBay v. MercExchange).   

The Impact of Overturning eBay v. MercExchange

At a time when most policymakers rightly argue that China and other countries need to do more to clamp down on intellectual property infringement, overturning the four-factor eBay test would impose new hurdles and increase the PAE problem that Congress and the Supreme Court have fought to address over that last two decades. The risk that an implementer engages in “efficient infringement” has made the ITC an increasingly attractive forum, for at least some patent owners and notably not PAEs. ITC exclusion orders and cease and desist orders are the last vestige of the exclusivity promised to the right patent owners at the time they are granted a patent. Compared to proposed sections of the STRONGER Patents Act, the ITC strikes a balance between offering at least some patent owners the ability to prevent infringers from engaging in the never-ending game of “efficient infringement” while frustrating PAEs attempts to abuse the exclusionary remedies offered.  Congressional action should be reserved for a time when there is clear evidence that the eBay decision is harming U.S. businesses and those U.S. businesses are unable to obtain the relief they need at the ITC. At this time, there is no such evidence.

Why eBay v. MercExchange Should, But Won’t, Be Overruled

As anyone who follows the United States Supreme Court knows, the Court has historically been extremely fond of taking important cases with cutting edge issues, only to dodge the real issues and address some insignificant procedural or hyper-technical issue. Such disappointment is all too frequent, so Supreme Court watchers are seldom surprised when the Court passes on an opportunity to breathe clarity into otherwise unsettled waters. But what the Supreme Court did in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006) was far more disappointing. In eBay, the Supreme Court decided to throw out longstanding and well-established Federal Circuit jurisprudence and offered little or nothing in its place. The result has been an extraordinary shift in the balance of power between patent owners and infringers.

Obtaining Injunctions Under eBay Versus at the International Trade Commission

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. MercExchange, 547 US 388 (2006), it was fairly routine for a victorious patent owner who prevailed on a finding of infringement in a federal district court litigation to assume that a permanent injunction would issue to prevent ongoing infringement. Despite the STRONGER Patents Act seeking to overturn eBay, Congress at large has no desire to disturb this Supreme Court decision and any bill that contains a provision overruling eBay cannot be enacted. In light of eBay, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), which has always played a large role in patent litigation and enforcement strategies because of its statutory authority to issue exclusion orders and cease and desist orders, emerged as an important forum for patent owners.

Another Front in China’s Economic War: Senate IP Subcommittee Seeks to Solve USPTO’s Fraudulent Trademarks Problem

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) yesterday led a hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property titled “Fraudulent Trademarks: How They Undermine the Trademark System and Harm American Consumers and Businesses.” The hearing included five witnesses from academia, private practice and the business community who testified on ways to declutter the U.S. trademark register, curb fraudulent trademark filings from China, and improve current mechanisms for enforcing trademarks in U.S. courts, among other topics. All agreed that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) August rule change requiring that foreign trademark applicants use U.S. counsel has likely only temporarily helped to ebb the flow of fraudulent filings from China, as bad actors are already adjusting their strategies.

One Inventor’s Unsolicited Congressional Testimony Following Arthrex

Since inventors are rarely allowed to participate in patent discussions in Congress, I would like to submit my testimony here. In Arthrex, the Federal Circuit in effect decided that our rights are subordinate to the government, so the government has the authority to giveth them to us or taketh them away. I would like to remind the Federal Circuit, the Supreme Court, and Congress that you are tasked with the honor, privilege and duty to defend our rights. That is the very basis on which you are employed, and you have no function other than that. Our rights preexist you, supersede you, and come from sources that are above your pay grade. They exist as a matter of our birth. You have no legitimate authority to take those rights just because it is inconvenient for the huge multinational corporations that have to now deal with the illegitimate position of owning our rights because so-called judges unconstitutionally took them from us and gave them to those huge corporations.   

Civil Debate is a Fair Request, But False Narratives are Harming U.S. Innovation

Yesterday, we published a response from Daniel Takash, the Regulatory Policy Fellow at the Niskanen Center’s Captured Economy Project, asking for a more civil IP debate. The response was itself responding to Lydia Malone’s critical view of the R Street panel on Capitol Hill that she attended, and which she felt took the position that patents are too strong. I, too, wrote an article in advance of the R Street presentation where I was highly critical of the motivations of R Street. Mr. Takash suggests “[w]e should all do our best to live by Antonin Scalia’s maxim to ‘attack arguments, not people.’” That is perfectly reasonable. It is, however, also perfectly reasonable to question the motivations of those who are making claims that are unquestionably false. To be quite direct about it, the R Street supposition that patents are too strong is pure fantasy of the first order. Anyone with even fleeting familiarity with the subject matter who has at all been paying attention to the demise of the U.S. patent system over the last 12+ years knows that U.S. patents are not too strong. U.S. patents are too weak. So weak that for the first time in a decade the number of U.S. patent applications has decreased while patent applications worldwide surged forward by more than 5% during 2018. Moreover, U.S. applicants are not foregoing patent protection, they just aren’t filing as much in the United States. Indeed, U.S. applicants continue to be the hungriest for patents worldwide.

ITC Investigates University of California Complaint Against Amazon and Other Major Retailers

In late August, the U.S. International Trade Commission published a notice of institution of a Section 337 investigation on behalf of the Regents of the University of California, which is now underway. The University filed a complaint in July alleging that a series of major retailers including Amazon.com, Bed Bath & Beyond, IKEA, Target and Walmart have infringed patents through the importation of certain filament light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and products containing the same. The ITC action is part of an enforcement campaign that is being hailed by the firm representing the university as a “first-of-its-kind university-led effort” to vindicate patent rights owned by the institution.

The Great Escape: Efficient Infringers Increasingly Seek to Abuse Antitrust Law

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an important decision that might be easy to overlook. In Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Capital One Financial Corporation, the Federal Circuit dodged the antitrust question presented by finding that a prior ruling had collateral estoppel effect. Still, the arguments raised by Capital One against Intellectual Ventures are part of a disturbing trend. Unwilling licensees who engage in a scheme of efficient infringement to avoid paying for patent licenses are increasingly looking to creative antitrust theories to escape liability for their actions. Efficient infringement is a cold-hearted business calculation whereby businesses decide it will be cheaper to use patented technology without paying than to license it and pay a fair royalty to the patent owner. This calculus is made on the part of large entities who realize there are a certain number of patent owners that are just simply not going to assert their patents for one reason or another, frequently because they don’t have the money to do so. Then there is another group of those that will assert their patents but will not win. The calculation progresses to realize that there is a small group of those who are likely to both assert patents and prevail, thanks to all the hurdles put in place (i.e., patent eligibility challenges, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, etc.). The calculation further recognizes that even if a patent owner prevails, a permanent injunction is virtually impossible to obtain as the result of the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. MerchExchange, and damages are likely to be minimal thanks to a continual judicial erosion in damages available to victorious patent owners. This cold-hearted business approach to using intellectual property without paying has gone on for decades, but with the weakened state of the U.S. patent system since 2006, it has grown progressively worse.

A Step Forward for the STRONGER Patents Act

The bipartisan STRONGER Patents Act of 2019 took an important step forward last week, as the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property held a hearing on the proposed legislation. Senators Tillis and Coons, the Subcommittee’s Chairman and Ranking Member, should be commended for holding the hearing and focusing attention on our patent system’s role in promoting American innovation and job creation. As several of the hearing witnesses made clear in their testimony, our patent system has been dangerously weakened in recent years through a series of judicial, legislative, and administrative changes. These changes have undermined patent rights and made it difficult for inventors to protect their innovations from infringement. Meanwhile, our foreign competitors, including China and Europe, have strengthened their patent rights. This has put us at a competitive disadvantage and helped contribute to a trend of both innovation and venture capital increasingly moving overseas. For example, the U.S. share of global venture capital fell from 66% in 2010 to 40% in 2018, while China’s share increased from 12% to 38% in the same time period. And despite more than a decade of economic growth following the Great Recession of 2007-2009, startup formation has failed to return to its pre-recession levels.

New Hampshire Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Patent Troll Defamation Case

On August 16, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire issued an opinion in Automated Transactions, LLC v. American Bankers Association affirming a lower court’s decision to grant a motion to dismiss claims of defamation alleged by an inventor whose legitimate patent licensing business was decimated by a collection of entities and individuals deriding that inventor as a “patent troll.” The decision is certainly unwelcome news to any inventor concerned by the prospect that large entities could infringe upon their intellectual property and escape any chance of facing justice simply by hurling the “patent troll” epithet.

House Hearing Highlights China, E-Commerce Contributions to Cluttering of U.S. Trademark Register

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet this morning, titled Counterfeits and Cluttering: Emerging Threats to the Integrity of the Trademark System and the Impact on American Consumers and Businesses, members of Congress expressed concern over the steep rise in trademark applications by Chinese filers, many of which have been found to be fraudulent. The problem has been exacerbated by poor enforcement on the part of platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart; by the limited authority of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to revoke registrations once issued; and by incentives offered by the Chinese government in the form of subsidies to Chinese applicants for U.S. trademarks, said panelists.