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

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

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

China’s Great Leap Forward in Patents

On March 28, Apple Inc. appeared in court in Shanghai to defend charges that Siri, its voice-recognition, personal-assistant software, allegedly infringes a Chinese patent. The plaintiff and owner of the patent, Zhizhen Internet Technology Co., claims its version of the software has over 100 million users in China and is requesting the court to ban all manufacturing or sales of Apple’s product in China.

This was not the first time Apple faced patent infringement claims in China. Last summer a Taiwanese man sued the company in China for alleged infringement relating to its Facetime technology; in 2010 a Shenzhen company threatened to sue concerning iPad design; in 2008 Apple was sued for the iPod; and in 2012, a Hong Kong company launched GooPhone I5, an android-based replica of the iPhone 5, reportedly based on leaked photos of the iPhone. GooPhone claimed to have patented the design and threatened to sue Apple if it dared to sell the genuine article in China.

Nor is Apple alone. French company, Schneider Electric lost a $48 million patent infringement verdict in China and Samsung lost one for $7.4 million. Sony, Phillips, Canon and Dell have all had their battles and GooPhone sells knockoffs of other smartphones in China with apparent impunity. Of course it’s possible in some cases the Chinese technology may be first and the Chinese patent legitimate. However, foreign companies face a growing risk that Chinese entities may unscrupulously patent foreign technology in China and demand a toll to do business there. Not only that, but in coming years companies will increasingly face challenges worldwide from the growing landslide of patents coming out of China. Continue reading

Managing Costs of Patent Litigation

For several years I was the lead attorney at a Taiwan company that manufactures technology and consumer electronic products, from light-emitting diodes to liquid-crystal displays. Every month we received a new demand for patent licensing or indemnification and it was my job to dispose of them at no cost, without licensing, litigation, or outside counsel. Usually it was possible, but occasionally we found ourselves mired in full-blown litigation.

It’s no secret patent litigation costs are immense. According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the cost of an average patent lawsuit, where $1 million to $25 million is at risk, is $1.6 million through the end of discovery and $2.8 million through final disposition. Adding insult to injury, more than 60% of all patent suits are filed by non-practicing entities (NPEs) that manufacture no products and rely on litigation as a key part of their business model.

However, whether one represents a plaintiff or defendant, manufacturer or NPE, there are actions one can take to help manage the costs.

Below are some general guidelines. Continue reading

Ten Tips for Successful Outbound Technology Licensing

In this age of endless corporate cost-cutting, it might seem the only way to compel a company to license ones technology is through litigation or threats of litigation. After all, why would a company agree to pay large sums of hard-earned dollars for the use of intangible property unless it absolutely has to?

Well, they do. While patent lawsuits grab the big headlines, plenty of licensing takes place without threats or coercion. Often it results from business discussions between willing participants. The licensor may be unwilling or unable to fully develop and commercialize its technology, while the licensee may believe use of the technology will generate increased revenue or other benefits that should outweigh the costs of licensing.

Take Microsoft, for example. They license out a variety of technologies that improve the performance of computers, monitors, keyboards and more. But, they hit a jackpot with their android patents, licensing their technology to cell phone manufacturers who paid more than $400 million in licensing revenue in 2012. Or consider IBM, Intel, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, each generating roughly $1 billion in annual licensing revenue. Of course, those are extreme cases, but the point is licensing deals are often entered into not in response to litigation but as a strategic, mutually-beneficial business transaction.

Of course, it’s not easy locating potential licensing partners and convincing them that paying royalties makes business sense. In fact, it usually requires a great deal of work. But, technology licensing agreements are often negotiated as a business deal, with the licensor wielding a carrot not a stick, sparing both parties the stress and expense of litigation. I know, because my former employer, on several occasions, succeeded in doing the same.

Here are 10 tips intended to help your company out-license its technology through business means. Continue reading

Strategic Monetization of Patents

The value of all U.S. generated intellectual property is said to be approximately $5.5 trillion, equal to nearly 40% of the U.S. economy. From time to time that value is dramatically demonstrated, such as when Apple wins a $1 billion patent infringement verdict against Samsung, when Nortel sells a portfolio of patents for $4.5 billion, or when Google acquires Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, to gain control of its patents.

However, for many companies the cost of obtaining and maintaining intellectual assets – in particular patents – may be a huge waste of corporate resources, either because the company files patents indiscriminately, without sufficient consideration for which technologies, markets and regions may be most deserving of investment, or because it fails to devise and implement a sound plan for monetization of the patents.

Monetization of a patent portfolio usually begins with an IP audit. Working with the company’s business units and engineers, one should evaluate the company’s patents and divide them into three or four categories: those which are presently being used by the company; those which are not being used, but might have value to others; and those which are not being used and appear to have little value. One may also distinguish between patents that relate to the company’s core v. non-core technologies. Continue reading

Compelling Involuntary Depositions of Inventors in Taiwan

It is common in U.S. patent litigation for a party accused of infringement to seek to depose inventors of the patents-in-suit. If the inventors are officers, directors or managing agents of a party and live or work in the U.S., it should be a routine matter to compel their depositions pursuant to the federal rules of civil procedure (FRCP). If the inventors are located outside the U.S. and do not consent to be deposed, the process is more burdensome, but often their depositions can be compelled pursuant to the provisions of the Hague Convention or other relevant treaty.

However, the process may be especially difficult if the inventor is located in Taiwan, is unwilling, and is no longer, or never was, employed by a party. First, Taiwan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so any attempt to compel the unwilling witness will have to proceed by way of letters rogatory. Second, if the inventor is not an officer, director or managing agent, the FRCP won’t apply and one must find another legal basis for ordering the testimony.

A number of courts have found that legal basis in the invention assignment agreement that the inventor signed in order to give up his rights in the patent. Invention assignment agreements usually contain language requiring the inventor to render certain assistance to the assignee of the patent. Depending on the particular facts and contract language, it is not unusual for a U.S. court to order a party to produce a foreign inventor to testify at deposition or trial, overseas or in the U.S., based on the notion that the assignment agreement gives the party “control” over the inventor.

What the courts gloss over is the extreme difficulty a party may encounter attempting to compel the inventor to comply with the order if the inventor refuses. In Taiwan, in particular, parties generally lack such control. Continue reading