PWC’s 2014 Patent Litigation Study

PWC 2014 patent reportPricewaterhouseCoopers has just released its comprehensive annual study of U.S. patent litigation, covering the period from 1991 through 2013. Examining everything from litigation success rates, time-to-trial and median damage awards to comparisons of judges, districts, jury v. bench trials and non-practicing entities (“NPEs”) v. practicing entities (“PEs”), the report is a treasure trove of fascinating statistics.

The report concludes that, “in some ways, 2013 appeared to be a moderating year in patent infringement litigation,” with fewer mega-damage awards and a continuing decline in median damages, but on the other hand, “both the number of patent cases filed and the number of patents granted continued to grow rapidly in 2013 – by 25% (to almost 6,500 cases) and 7% (to almost 300,000 patents) respectively.”

Just a few highlights of the report are set forth below: Continue reading

Jury finds Firm Negligent to Prosecute Patents for Competitors

LettersPatent7899 On Thursday, a Texas jury found the Baker Botts law firm negligent for filing patents for competing companies and set the damages at $40.5 million… but Baker Botts dodged the bullet, as the jury also found the plaintiff waited too long to file its claim.

Axcess International hired Baker Botts in 1998 to provide general IP advice and assist with drafting and filing of patent applications for RFID technology. However, shortly after filing several patents on Axcess’ behalf, the firm also agreed to represent Savi Technologies, a competitor of Axcess, and began filing patent applications for Savi.

Axcess filed the lawsuit in 2010, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and material disclosure and claiming it only learned of the violations the year before. The jury disagreed. While if found Baker Botts breached its obligations, it found Axcess had knowledge in 2007 and the statutes of limitations had expired. Continue reading

Best Practices for Licensing Patents to Companies in China

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Patent licensing generally is fraught with risks, but licensors who do business in China face special challenges. Common practices and contract provisions that may work elsewhere often prove ineffective in China. Consequently, before entering into such an arrangement, the prudent lawyer will review some of the key issues faced by licensors in China.

Notably, foreign companies are increasingly being forced to defend their licensing terms before China’s antitrust regulator, the National Development and Reform Commission (“NDRC”). US patent-assertion entity InterDigital recently settled a dispute with the NDRC, by agreeing to lower its royalty rates in China and make other changes to its terms. The NDRC raided Qualcomm’s Beijing and Shanghai offices and launched an investigation into the US chip-maker’s licensing terms. And, when Microsoft announced plans to acquire Nokia’s business (but not its patents), several competitors demanded China’s government impose restrictions on the deal, prohibiting Microsoft and Nokia from raising their licensing rates in China.

But anti-trust compliance is just one challenge faced by licensors in China; other challenges relate to restrictions on technology imports, under-reporting of royalties, difficulties with audits, dispute resolution and more. This article will summarize a few relevant laws and challenges licensors should be aware of and best practices for dealing with them. Continue reading

Supreme Court Loosens Standard for Recovering Fees in Patent Suits

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In two 9-0 decisions, the US Supreme Court just made it easier for the winning party to recover its attorney fees in US patent lawsuits. In Octane Fitness v. ICON, the Court relaxed the standard for recovering attorney fees and in Highmark v. Allcare Health Management, the Court made it harder for the Federal Circuit to second-guess district courts on a party’s bad conduct.

The US Patent Act allows a successful party in patent litigation to recover its attorney fees in “exceptional cases.” In the Octane case, the Fed Circuit ruled that such cases required both objective baselessness and subjective bad faith. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding “A case presenting either subjective bad faith or exceptionally meritless claims may sufficiently set itself apart from mine-run cases to warrant a fee award.”

In the Highmark case, a district court awarded Highmark $5.2 million in attorney fees after finding it was the subject of a frivolous patent infringement suit. The plaintiff in the underlying action appealed the decision and the Fed Circuit re-heard arguments on attorney fees and came to a different decision. The Supreme Court found the Fed Circuit should have left the judge’s decision alone unless it found the court acted unreasonably.

Read more on these two cases HERE

Microsoft to Close Nokia Deal by Friday

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Microsoft announced it will complete its US$7.5 billion acquisition of Nokia’s cellphone business by Friday, April 25, including over 30,000 staff, a wide range of devices and Nokia’s CEO, who will report directly to Microsoft’s CEO.

The transaction will allow Microsoft to compete directly against Apple, Samsung and other cell-phone makers and allow Nokia to focus on generating revenue from its extensive patent portfolio.

Chinese antitrust regulators finally gave their approval to the deal earlier this month, while South Korea’s regulators still haven’t given their approval, but the parties claim approval from Korea is not required to close the deal. Continue reading

40-year US Patent Review Period?

slowjustice“Father of the microcontroller,” Gilbert Hyatt, who has been granted over 70 patents, generating more than $350 million in royalties, and won a $388 million award against California’s Franchise Tax Board for wrongful harassment, has been waiting more than 40 years for the USPTO to respond to his pending patent applications.

Sounds crazy, but it may be true. Read his amazing story here: HERE

Nokia settles with HTC, adds to Patent War Chest

After two years of litigation in seven countries involving more than fifty of Nokia’s non-essential patents, Nokia announced a global settlement with HTC that should conclude all patent litigation between the two companies, but add to fears that Nokia is transforming itself into a formidable patent troll.

The announcement came this past Friday, just days after Nokia scored its fourth victory over HTC in a German court (three in the past two months) and days before the U.S. International Trade Commission was scheduled to review a preliminary ruling finding HTC infringed two of Nokia’s U.S. patents.

Although Nokia and HTC have a “long standing” agreement concerning licensing of Nokia’s patents that are deemed essential for practicing industry standards, Nokia has been battling with HTC over non-essential patents since Nokia fired the first shot in 2012, followed by victories in England, Wales, Munich, Mannheim and the U.S. Continue reading

Software May be Patented in Asia, but the Details Remain Unclear

In the United States, attorneys, judges and others have struggled for decades to determine when, if ever, computer programs or software should be eligible for patent protection. In the 1960’s the U.S. Patent Office declared that software could not be patented. Since then, a series of court decisions have rejected that view and established that one may definitely patent software in the U.S., although the exact requirements remain unclear and critics increasingly demand that it should not be patentable.

As a starting point, 35 U.S.C. §101 provides that any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or new and useful improvement thereof, is eligible for patent protection, subject to other requirements of the Patent Act (that is, §101 is just the threshold test for patentability). Congress has never stated any limitations to the patentable categories of §101 and case law has only recognized three categories of exceptions – subject matter that may not be patented: laws of nature, physical phenomena and abstract ideas. Computer software is often found to be ineligible on the ground that it comprises abstract ideas, but courts have struggled to provide a precise formula or definition for abstract ideas. Continue reading

Think Patent Arbitration Can’t Work? Think Again.

When amicable efforts fail to resolve a dispute concerning patent rights and the aggrieved party wishes to pursue the matter further, it usually initiates litigation or perhaps a U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) investigation, despite the huge costs of such options, because it may assume no other plausible alternatives exist to achieve the desired objectives.

Articles, such as this one, tout arbitration as an alternative: faster, cheaper and more confidential than litigation, with other benefits as well. Apparently the U.S. Supreme Court agrees, having described the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. §1, et seq.) as evidencing a “national policy favoring arbitration” (Nitro-Lift v. Howard); and recognized “an emphatic federal policy in favor of arbitral dispute resolution” (Marmet Health Care v. Brown). Likewise, the Patent Act provides at 35 U.S.C. §294(a) that any arbitration clause contained in a patent agreement shall be presumed valid, irrevocable and enforceable.

However, in actual practice, relatively few patent disputes are submitted to arbitration. Worldwide, only a few hundred requests to arbitrate patent disputes are filed each year. By comparison, in 2012 more than 5,000 patent lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Courts, not to mention courts of other nations. So what’s the problem? If arbitration is so great, why are so few patent disputes resolved in arbitration? More important, are patent litigants missing something? Should they rely on arbitration more often? Continue reading

Design Patents in China: Applications, Infringement and Enforcement

Design patents have been making the news. Last summer, Apple’s $1.05 billion verdict against Samsung was famously based, in part, on the finding that Samsung infringed Apple’s rounded-rectangle and edge-to-edge glass designs. Since then, Yamaha, Thule, Oakley, Nike and Spanx, to name just a few, have litigated in the U.S. over the design of headphones, ski racks, sunglasses, footwear and women’s undergarments. And just last month, former head of the USPTO, David Kappos, published an OpEd piece describing design as “the new frontier of intellectual property.”

Nothing has fundamentally changed about the nature of design patents. The first US design patent was granted in 1842. The Statue of Liberty, Coke bottle, Volkswagen Beatle, Stealth Bomber and Star Wars’ Yoda are all protected by design patents. Design patents have long played an important role in consumer electronics, automotive, apparel, jewelry, packaging and other industries.

But industrial design is becoming increasingly important, Mr. Kappos explains, because the increasing functionality of man-made devices brings with it increasing complexity, so innovative companies are constantly seeking superior designs, a convergence of form and function that helps make the complex simple and sets their companies apart; and protecting such designs is critical.

While that explanation sounds reasonable, in China there are additional factors and – as always – the picture is complex and uncertain, but it is perfectly clear that companies doing business in China, from manufacturing to sales, should seriously consider the roles design patents can play with respect to brand protection, counterfeiting and unscrupulous business practices. Continue reading