Believe it or not, a recent op-ed in the Washington Post written by Robin Feldman took the position that pharmaceutical companies should charge prices for their drugs that would surely guarantee that they go bankrupt. An absurd position even for a law professor who is ideologically predisposed to an irrational hatred of patents, but precisely the position Feldman articulated. How someone as smart as a law professor does not understand basic business reality raises important questions about her intellectual honesty—or at the very least raises questions about whether she is truly an expert on this topic.
They found that citations were elevated for licensed patents. Moreover, most citations occurred after the patent was licensed. That licensing of patented technology increases its diffusion and relevance more broadly is supported by Drivas et al. (2014), who found that citations by non–licensees to patents exclusively licensed (either by geographic area or field of use) by the University of California increased after the licenses were executed. These are objective empirical indicia – not subjective responses of accused infringers to selective surveys.
There are a variety of problems with this paper, the conclusions reached and the methodology. Perhaps the largest problem is that Professors Feldman and Lemley rely on subjective evidence rather than volumes of objective evidence that contradict the self-serving responses from those who are licensing rights they are already infringing. What else would you suspect from a homogenous subset of individuals who collectively don’t like the patent system very much? Collective bias seems a far more likely answer as to why there is “near unanimity,” as the Professors claim. Even so, how is it possible that any group could ever achieve near unanimity about anything? The fact that there was near unanimity demands one to question whether there is a bias or flaw in the survey, yet no such inquiry seems to have been made.
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.
Doctors and researchers are quietly acquiescing to the demands of those asserting copyright in medical tests, for fear of becoming entwined in lengthy and expensive legal proceedings that could result in a costly judgment. Such fear could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy if it prompts the creation of an industry norm for licensing medical tests. Courts and legislators have been known to defer to industry custom, even when they harbor some doubts about the wisdom of the underlying logic. The challenging thread running through all of this is that medical tests of this kind stand at the boundary between patent and copyright, raising the mind-bending question of how to conceptualize a process, which is the purview of patent, when that process consists of nothing more than words, which is normally the purview of copyright.
Our analysis of the full set of cases across the chosen years confirms what we saw in the smaller sample: patent infringement litigation by patent monetization entities has risen dramatically over a remarkably short period of time. One of the most striking results is the following: in 2012, litigation by patent monetization entities now represents a majority of the patent litigation filed in the United States. Specifically, patent monetization entities filed 58% of the patent lawsuits in 2012. This is a sharp rise from 2007, when patent monetization entities filed only 24% of patent infringement litigations.
The Honorable Alex Kozinski immediately posed the question—by way of an analogy to scientists who stare at the stars—of why should someone be able to get a gene patent just because there was a significant amount of effort put in to discover that gene. Throughout the event, Judge Kozinski took on the role of the generalist judge, who would need to be convinced that the invention in the lab is anything other than a product of nature. Professor David Winickoff of UC Berkeley followed that question up by discussing James Watson’s amicus brief and the idea that genes are both symbolic in our culture and shared by all humans, thus making them a unique item in our world.
In the last five years, the patent market has undergone a change of seismic proportions. Patent rights are now regularly stripped from any underlying product and traded much like commodities in a largely unregulated market–the market for patent monetization. Regardless of what one thinks about the causes and implications of patent monetization, it is clear that this behavior is expanding at an explosive rate. In this rapidly shifting landscape, it will be critical for companies to be able to keep track, not only of simple ownership of patents, but also of actual control. With this new market for patent monetization, we currently have no way to accurately measure girth and no way to know what people are doing with the girth they have. This is why sunshine rules are so critical for grappling with the market and designing the rules that will ensure a competitive marketplace.
This workshop will examine the economic and legal implications of patent assertion entity (PAE) activity, as distinct from prototypical “non-practicing entity” (NPE) activity, such as developing and transferring technology. By contrast, PAE activities often include purchasing patents from existing owners and seeking to maximize revenues by licensing the intellectual property to (or litigating against) manufacturers who are already using the patented technology.
Any discussion of flaws in the United States patent system inevitably turns to the system’s modern villain: non-practicing entities. They are known more colorfully as patent trolls, although the business model of non-practicing entities has appeared in copyright markets as well as well as in patent markets. In the America Invents Act, Congress directed the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study “on the consequences of patent infringement lawsuits brought by non-practicing entities.” At the GAO’s request, we provided data on non-practicing entities for five years (2007-2011).
The types of returns promised to investors and the types of benefits offered to participants are also quite different from garden-variety non-practicing entities, as are some of the tactics used in organizing the entities and in asserting the patents. Finally, the scale itself is simply mind-boggling. Mass aggregators operate on a scale and at a level of sophistication and complexity that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. They have taken the prototype strategies pioneered by a prior generation of non-practicing entities and changed them into some of the cleverest strategies yet seen in the intellectual property rights field.