At the IP Awareness Summit held at the Columbia University on November 29 Jay Walker, entrepreneur, prolific inventor, TEDMED curator and founder of Priceline.com, spoke about a “broken” patent system and need for a Constitutional Convention to fix it. In the following response to Walker’s speech, Brenda Pomerance takes a different view.
Improving the Patent System:
Independent Inventors Need Apply
By Brenda Pomerance
At the IP Awareness Summit held by the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding on November 29, 2018 at the Columbia School of Journalism, Jay Walker gave a keynote presentation asserting that the Patent System was irreparably broken for individual inventors lacking “deep pockets.” He based his position on five problems, and called for an entirely redesigned Patent System.
In fact, two of these problems are features, not problems. The existing Patent System can be tweaked to provide individuals with a fairer playing field for the other three problems.
First, clarity: Walker says that patent claims are impossible for him to understand.
Lack of clarity, for laypersons, is due to the need for a claim to only distinguish from the prior art, not to explain how to make an invention and to distinguish that invention from the prior art. Walker can eliminate his clarity problem by telling his patent attorney to write claims that are essentially a production specification for the invention, but the scope of these claims will be much narrower than is needed. Examiners will love these production specification claims and prosecution will be faster.
Also, the Patent System enables a claim to encompass something that the inventor did not specifically think of when the patent application was filed, if claims are suitably written and there was no discussion of this issue in the prosecution history, but an inventor can relinquish this flexibility via clearer claims that are limited to exactly what the inventor invented.
Second, reliability: Walker says that because so many patents are invalidated, a patent is not a reliable property.
Walker can hugely improve validity by telling his patent attorney to write claims that will survive most litigation challenges (a very high standard), rather than claims that an examiner will allow (a lower standard). But, the inventor will have to (a) do the comprehensive prior art search that litigation defendants do (costing up to $100,000 for the search), then (b) figure out why it would not be obvious-to-try to combine this prior art to arrive at the invention, and finally (c) explain non-obviousness in the disclosure, which requires a detailed in-context understanding of each piece of prior art and vastly more care expended on the background section of a patent application.
An excellent prior art search along with an explanation distinguishing the claims from the prior art will speed up prosecution, but will substantially increase the cost of patent application preparation, possibly making it too costly for shallow pocket individuals.
Third and Fourth, cost and time: Walker says that it is too expensive and takes too long to enforce a patent.
Here are some tweaks to address enforcement cost and time problems:
(A) Require that all prior-art based challenges to a patent be presented in an IPR Request that is filed within nine months (not one year, to reduce gamesmanship of multiple IPR filings) of the lawsuit’s filing, unless plaintiff consents to addressing prior art invalidation in litigation, with a prohibition on staying the lawsuit for the IPR until the IPR Request is granted, and an automatic lawsuit stay after the IPR Request is granted unless the parties agree to concurrent litigation. During litigation, this would leave mainly inequitable conduct available to invalidate a patent during litigation unless and until defendant negotiates for prior art, perhaps via accelerated discovery or payment. It requires that the PTAB consider as prior art more than merely printed publications.
(B) If PTAB denies the IPR Request (the current PTAB denial rate is 40%), the patent is presumed valid over prior art against the challenger in all Patent Office and court proceedings. This will speed up enforcement against defendants who make only small changes but keep infringing to force patent owner to file new lawsuits.
(C) If all claims, asserted in litigation at the time of IPR Request filing, are invalidated in an IPR based on a prior art rejection (references and motivation to combine) that the patent owner was notified of by the patent challenger at least three months prior to the filing of the IPR Request, then the patent owner has to pay the challenger’s attorney fees for preparing and filing (but not prosecuting) the IPR Request. This encourages defendants to quickly share their most relevant invalidity arguments, and punishes plaintiffs who ignore relevant prior art and waste defendants’ resources in an IPR, but the punishment is limited by not including prosecution costs so as not to be too scary for good faith plaintiffs.
(D) After an IPR Request has been disposed of via denial or an IPR, a deep pocket defendant must begin paying half of the monthly cost of litigation attorney fees for a shallow pocket plaintiff based on redacted attorney invoices. If the judge or jury finds the defendant is not liable for any infringement damages, then the plaintiff must repay the attorney fee payments.
(E) For a patent that has survived IPR, via IPR Request denial or an IPR, and that a defendant has been shown to infringe, restore the presumption of irreparable damage for patent infringement that was destroyed by eBay v. MercExchange, 547 U.S. 388 (2006), leading to an injunction absent exceptional circumstances, regardless of whether patent owner licenses or practices the patent.
(F) Provide a rebuttable presumption that the patented technology is frequently used by all accused products and services of an infringer, and require that damages be based on how often a technology is actually used to provide a product or service, so that rarely used features have relatively small damages awards, while frequently used features can have large damage awards. The incentive of rebuttal should encourage defendants to provide discovery, instead of the current gamesmanship of withholding discovery.
(G) For a prevailing shallow pocket individual plaintiff, a deep pocket defendant must pay 200% of the plaintiff’s attorney fees absent exceptional circumstances. This penalizes deep pocket litigants for litigation gamesmanship.
Fifth, price discovery: Walker says that it is difficult to predict what infringement damages will be.
The pre-litigation part of this difficulty is because parties like to keep confidential the cost of licenses and settlements; but confidentiality should be their right.
The litigation part of this difficulty is because defendants are extraordinarily reluctant to provide discovery on what portion of their business infringes and the revenue associated with doing so; D-G above, especially F, will reduce such reluctance.
I agree with Walker that, at present, the enforcement part of the Patent System is hostile towards under-funded individual inventors. However, the Patent System is still quite viable and can evolve to be friendlier towards individuals. Independent inventors are a fabulous source of ideas and patents reflect the diligence to make the fruits of their ideas available in commerce, which benefits all of us.
The audio file for Jay Walker’s speech can be found at https://www.ipawarenesssummit.com/recorded-speakers
Brenda Pomerance has almost 30 years of experience in prosecution of approximately 2,000 patents, including Appeal, Ex-parte Re-examination, Reissue, Inter Partes Review and Interference. Clients have included Research in Motion (now Blackberry), MIT, AT&T, Lucent, IBM, Sony and Canon. Ms. Pomerance has represented clients in licensing, in several patent infringement lawsuits and in a software copyright infringement lawsuit. She is a solo patent attorney in the Law Office of Brenda Pomerance in New York City. firstname.lastname@example.org
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