It has never been easy for American innovators hoping to generate a return on their inventions, but new hurdles have made it impossible to license even the best patents.
Despite increased availability of capital and access to data, IT patents today have a much more difficult time proving themselves than a decade or a century ago. The vast majority of the public, stakeholders if indirectly, are not aware of the situation or its impact.
With the enactment of the American Invents Act (AIA) in 2012 and several supreme court decisions setting an ambiguously higher bar for patent certainty, licensing began to resemble scaling a high peak, with enough challenges even the most innovative business or inventor.
Two such obstacles are the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and inter partes reviews, created to validate patents already issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Until the AIA came along, USTPO-issued patents had enjoyed a “presumption of validity,” the standard since 1952.
In theory, a “second look” for issued patents is not a bad idea. Examinations are not always as thorough as they could be. If it were fairly applied, these re-examinations would kill any dubious patents that should not have been issued by time-constrained examiners, and affirm those that deserve to be. This would make it easier for owners to license without resorting to costly litigation. In practice, however, is not the case.
Patents that the PTAB chooses not to review, and even those whose reviews are instituted and claims affirmed, still, are rarely seen as licenseable, and are subject to subsequent IPRs and/or protracted litigation. New and even more onerous obstacles to patent certainty have added to the time and cost of resolving disputes. How much time and cost?
The illustration on this page, courtesy of Brody Berman Associates, IP communication specialists, is an illustration of the just how difficult patent licensing has become. That is not to say that every licensor must go through all of the steps, all of the time, but many do, especially those who believe the infringement warrants significant damages or a potential licensor believes the royalty costs outweigh the expensive legal ones. Many accused infringers have the capital and constitution to withstand a protracted dispute, which can last five years or more.
Defendants who take their time engage in what is known as “efficient” infringement. For a patent holder to prove patentability, validity, infringement and damages is frequently too costly and time-consuming a climb, so why bother? For many IT patent holders, licensing without litigation is no longer an option.
From Edison to Alexander Graham Bell to Nicola Tesla, market leaders have been reluctant to accept new ways of solving old problems if it may hurt their bottom line. An expensive challenge with many impediments along the way is one way of mitigating a threat. Patents that are held by businesses and individuals but are not used (enforced) are seen as less threatening to established businesses. To them, the best patents are seen but not heard.
An overly arduous path to patent certainty not only tilts the playing field, it dissuades competition and dims the future.
Image source: Brody Berman Associates, Inc.