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Philanthropist & patent licensing pioneer, Eugene Lang, dead at 98

One of America’s most successful and charitable patent licensing strategists passed away last week. 

Eugene M. Lang, describe as “an American folk hero” for his generous philanthropy, grew up on Manhattan’s East 83rd Street in a $12 per month railroad flat.

He went on to donate more than $150 million to charities and institutions during his lifetime for educational causes, including the I Have a Dream Foundation, which he established in 1981; the Eugene Lang College, part of the New School in Manhattan; the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University School of Business; and Swarthmore College, which he entered at 15 on a scholarship.

Much of Lang’s fortune was derived from the Refac Technology Development Corporation, it was reported in his obituary, a public company he founded in 1952 that specialized in the licensing of patents and financing high-tech ventures.

Thousands of Suits

“REFAC held patents relating to LCDs, ATMs, credit card verification systems, bar code scanners, VCRs, cassette players, camcorders, electronic keyboards, and spreadsheets,” reports Wikipedia, “and filed thousands of lawsuits against other corporations to secure licensing fees or out-of-court settlements, a business practice of some very large corporations such as Microsoft and Google as well as large startups such as Intellectual Ventures, and sometimes criticized as patent trolling.

Some considered Refac International Ltd., known for suing thousands of big and small companies to protect its patents, the model on which other non-practicing entities (NPEs) were based. In 1990, the company was chastised by a federal appeals court in Washington after losing a major lawsuit it filed against 118 Southern California companies selling products with liquid crystal displays.

The New York Times reported that Refac — the name stands for resources and facilities — had made much of its money “by aggressively filing patent infringement suits against companies like IBM and Eastman Kodak and retailers like R.H. Macy and Radio Shack on behalf of inventors of a wide range of products: liquid crystal displays, automated teller machines, bar-code warning systems and spreadsheet software.”

In a letter to The Times [valuable for its historical and factual content], Mr. Lang called the article “grossly distorted” and pointed out that most of the clients represented in lawsuits had sought out Refac after offering licenses to the corporations for their inventions and being turned down.

He illustrated his argument by citing the inventor of the laser who had tried to get industry to recognize his role and succeeded only after Refac won validation of his patents in the courts.

“For Refac, the drama of litigation began in 1975 when Gordon Gould, after battling industry opposition since 1959, asked us to represent his claims as inventor of the laser,” wrote Lang.

“Concluding that Mr. Gould’s claims had genuine merit, Refac, against all odds, accepted the challenge. It took until 1987 and some $4 million, but the courts finally validated every patent of Mr. Gould’s. Despite vituperative reactions from the laser industry – analogous to quotations cited in your article – claims that in 1975 might have been labeled ”all but worthless” now generate annual royalties in excess of $12 million.

Impulsive Gesture

A self-made businessman who flew coach class and traveled on subways and buses, Lang is best remembered for his impulsive gesture in June 1981, when he was invited to deliver the commencement address to 61 sixth graders at Public School 121 on East 103rd Street in Spanish Harlem. He had attended P.S. 121 as a boy 50 years earlier.

He made himself personally available to the students, counseling them when they faced obstacles such as teen pregnancy, addiction, and delinquency. He cheered them at their graduations and helped arrange for jobs. When a student was incarcerated at Sing Sing, he helped him pursue college course work from prison.

In addition to his daughter, Jane Lang, a Washington lawyer and community activist, Lang is survived by two sons, David and the film and stage actor Stephen Lang (Avatar, Conan the Barbarian, Gettysburg); a sister, Barbara Lang; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Lang the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

For more information about the Eugene M. Lang Foundation, go here.

Image source: thenewschoolhistory.org; newsworks.org

PIPX IP stock index down 8.7% in Q1 after being up 11.2% and 20.4%

The PIPX public IP licensing company stock index came back down to earth in the first quarter of 2017. 

For Q1 the PIPX index was down 8.7% after being up  11.2% and 20.4% in Q3 and Q4 2016. This compares to an up 5.5% quarter for the S&P 500.

The change in value of the component companies over Q4, range from 61.4% for Wi-Lan (WILN) to -40.7 for Marathon (MARA), Xperi (XPER) (formerly Teserra) experienced a 23.2% decline in its share. Finjan (FNJN), whose market cap does not currently qualify it for the Index, and sells cybersecurity products as well as engages in patent licensing, was 54% in the quarter.

Fewer companies are now responsible for the bulk of the performance, as size becomes even greater factor in this capitalization-weighted index and as the value of some companies lags.

After outperforming the S&P 500 in Q3 and Q4 2016, Q1 saw the PIPX decrease, but not as dramatically as in previous quarters. The value of $1 invested in the S&P 500 in Q3 2011 would now be $1.76 while the value of the same $1 invested in the PIPX would be $0.69.

Q1, gains in RPX (RPXC), which named a new CEO, and Wi-Lan shares represented substantially all the positive movement in the index, and was heavily outweighed by large decreases in valuation at Acacia (ACTG), Rambus (RMBS), InterDigital (IDCC), and Xperi carrying the index to a substantial loss.

InterDigital, Xperi, and Rambus continue to make up the lions share of the index because of their market cap,” said Dr. Kevin Klein, Vice President and GM of Products and Licensing at VORAGO Technologies, who compiled the IP stock performance data for IP CloseUp.

“These three companies accounted for 37% of the total value of the index at the inception in 2011, today they make up over 80% of the total value of the index. InterDigital alone now accounts for over 40%, up from 15% at inception.”

Quarterly PIPX Performance, 2011-2017

For the full Q1 PIPX report, go here.

Image source: PIPX IP Stock Index

 

PTAB fairness data is misleading, say more patent holders

Not all patent owners agree the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) is a fairer forum for vetting patent quality today.

While some believe that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) board is no longer the “death squad” that it was described as by the former Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, most patents subject to multiple inter partes reviews are, with an uncanny frequency, either invalidated or severely weakened. Few, emerge as clear winners.

The USPTO established the PTAB, an administrative law body, as part of the America Invents Act in 2012 to eliminate issued patents that should not have been granted because prior art way overlooked. IPRs are said to be a patent office “second look,” but while patent office re-examinations (an earlier review process superseded by IPRs) eliminated many patents that should not have seen the light of day, they also strengthened some, making them easier to license. To date, IPRs effectively have been a one-way street, eliminating many patents that should not have been issued but ineffective at identifying good ones.

An article that appeared last week, “How IPR Gang Tackling Distorts PTAB Statistics,” takes the recently reported data to task for misleading about the ultimate effect of multiple IPR filings on a single patent.

“If you use the PTAB published statistics, they’ll tell you that the institution rate was 50% – because only 1 of 2 petitions was granted. That’s true, as far as it goes. But from the patent owner’s perspective, they used to have 10 claims, and now they have 0.  That’s a 100% kill rate!”

“Assume 10 petitions and one institution,” wrote Peter Harter in IP Watchdog. “A 10% institution rate seems terribly biased towards [in favor of] the patent owner. But if all 10 claims get killed, that’s still a 100% kill rate – pretty good for challengers. When both sides think the deck is egregiously stacked against them, it’s easy to see why there’s no middle ground for compromise and improvement. And the way the PTAB is reporting statistics is to blame.”

An article that appeared recently in Law 360, “Inter Partes Reviews Becoming Friendlier to Patent Owners,” argues that holders whose patents are subjected to IPRs today have a better chance of survival than in the past.

“The PTAB also now institutes inter partes reviews less frequently,” writes Law 360. “Looking at all institution decisions made by the PTAB, the board decided to institute trials more than 85 percent of the time in the first year after inter partes reviews became available (2013) according to data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but only 68 percent of the time in its 2016 fiscal year.”

Statistically Valid

The decline in the institution rate may be statistically valid, but some patent holders argue that it does not tell the whole story. The statistics do not explain that some of the worst, most easily invalidated patents came before the PTAB in the first year of its existence, so the institution rate was destined to go down as it became clearer the weakest patents had been terminated.

Results from a November-December 2016 Bloomberg Law and AIPLA research study asserts that “progress has been made in patent owner attitudes towards IPRs.” However, it really depends on which patent owners you ask: those that have large portfolios that they rarely enforce or those with a small number of quality patents that they wish to license.

Brad D. Pendersen, former chair of AIPLA’s IPR Committee and co-author Bloomberg Law-AIPLA’s Patents After the AIA: Evolving Law and Practice (2016) believes that there is an opportunity for patent holders subject to IPRs to strengthen their patents, despite evidence to the contrary.

“Given the potential gold-plated downstream advantages (in litigation and/or settlement) of surviving an IPR (either at the Decision or Institute stage, at the Final Written Decision stage), and given that one-third of patents survive at the Decision to Institute Stage, it is surprising – but not completely unexpected – that some portion of patent owners are starting to look more favorably on the IPR process.”

It is not clear that most patent owners who license would agree with the “gold-plated” reasoning. If it were true, there would be even fewer patent suits and more owners seeking IPRs of good patents. In fact, it is a bit of a mystery what happens to patents that pass PTAB muster. A significant number appears to move on to district court litigation, and there is little data analyzing if they have greater value or fare any better licensing than patents that are less successful running the IPR gauntlet.

Leading IPR Target

Finjan is an example of an IP holder that engages in licensing whose patents are frequently subject to IPRs. The company has fared surprising well in defending itself at the PTAB, but that success does not seem to have translated into significant shareholder success for the cybersecurity company which also frequently out-licenses its patents.

On March 15, 16 and 17, as reported in The Patent Investor, Finjan won three more IPR rulings, involving Palo Alto Networks. Shares of Finjan (FNJN) currently sell at just $1.54. The company has a micro market capitalization of $35M, $18M on 2016 revenues. Its shares are up significantly over 12 months vs. for the S&P 500 Index, but the company, which lost $12.6M in 2015, showed its first profit in 2016, $350K or .02 per share. Finjan has executed a difficult IP strategy. If successful IPRs have gold-plated its patents, the value has yet to shine through.

Finjan was the fourth most IPR’d patent holder in 2016 and the third most in 2015. It is the most successful company in successfully defending against IPR petitions. Of 47 total IPRs against Finjan patents to date, 32 have been denied institution.

With that track record at the PTAB, one would think Finjan would have a field day licensing its patents, but the IPRs continue to come, and it still must win hard-fought victories in district court litigation. In September, a California jury found that cybersecurity firm Sophos infringed all eight patents asserted in a lawsuit brought by Finjan over software that identifies new computer viruses, awarding the company $15 million in damages.

“We have a portfolio of patents that has been proven durable in light of the increasing number of administrative pathways to challenge validity largely due to two factors,” says Finjan CEO, Phil Hartstein.  “First, our patents were developed jointly and alongside product development of technology that was disruptive to a market.  Second, we do not deviate from the intrinsic record of the assets themselves and vigorously defend our patent rights on the merits.”

Coordinated Challenges

Editor and patent attorney Gene Quinn of IP Watchdog believes that Finjan and other businesses that attempt to out-license their patents are frequently subject to repeated, coordinated attacks.

“At least several patent owners, including Finjan, are routinely subject to serial, harassing IPR challenges,” writes Quinn. “The Patent Office doing something about harassing IPR challenges is long overdue. If the Director is not going to exercise the discretion vested in that Office by the America Invents Act (AIA) hopefully more panels of the Board will take it upon themselves to do just that.

“Patent owner harassment needs to stop. Patent owners shouldn’t have to be subjected to many dozens of IPR challenges before someone recognizes there is coordinated harassment – perhaps even collusion – against certain patent owners who have the audacity to want to be paid for blatant, ongoing, willful infringement.”

23 IPRs Filed on a Single Patent

Zond makes plasma generators, the kind used in manufacturing semiconductors. Pulsed DC plasma generators for magnetron discharge were first introduced in the late 1990s to reduce arcing during for the purpose of improving the quality of thin-film materials. A big breakthrough came in September 2002, when Zond applied for what it describes as a “revolutionary” pulsed technology approach.

Zond is a Massachusetts-based company that wholly owns Zpulser LLC, which commercializes its patent technology by making and selling high-power plasma generators. The patent at issue relates to methods for generating magnetically enhanced plasma.

Over the last three years, Zond’s patents have challenged an average of 12.5 times in IPRs and as many as 23 times.  The patent research firm, Patexia, writes that it is difficult for holders of good patents to survive multiple IPR challenges. In the case of Zond, it has made licensing pretty much impossible.

A study last year, reported in Law 360, showed that Zond’s patents have been challenged in AIA reviews more than those of any other patent owner, including largest patent licensing company, Intellectual Ventures, which owns more than 70,000 patents and took second place on the list.

Zond’s large number of infringement suits, reports Law 360, spurred many companies to band together to challenge the patents in AIA reviews. In addition to Fujitsu and Gillette, petitioners have included Toshiba Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

Were potential licensees and defendants in patent suits lining up against Zond’s patents because they were bad and its case without merit, or did they want to destroy some potentially good patents that would have cost them to license?

For IPRs the devil certainly is in the details, as Patexia’s Pedram Sameni points out in a case study, “Can Patents Survive Multiple IPR Challenges?”

“Some have been suggesting that solely relying on the denial rates reported by the patent office is not enough to conclude that patents are surviving the IPR challenge,” writes Sameni. “Many have called PTAB, the patent death squad. Our study shows that in some cases, patents are challenged many times.

“The reality is that it only takes one successful IPR to completely kill all the claims of one patent. Therefore, the case-level status is not the best indication of PTAB performance and patent survival rate. While as IPR’s Final Written Decision usually means that some of the claims were invalidated, it does not necessarily mean that all claims were canceled.”

Not the Full Story

If claims still exist, they could be threats. And potential licensees/defendants will go to lengths to “kill” a patent to avoid paying a license or being dragged into court, including teaming on multiple petitions. Repeat IPRs are an efficient way to make a potential infringement suit or royalty payment disappear for multiple parties.

“The statistics that show that the PTAB is becoming fairer for patent holders do not tell the full story,” a prominent NPE told IP CloseUp. “IPRs are frequently unfair fights between several, well-funded petitioners and a single patent owner who has to run the gauntlet, repeatedly.  Surviving an IPR doesn’t mean anything if subsequent challenges can be filed at any time, especially in coordinated fashion.”

Once a patent is challenged multiple times with different prior arts, it is highly unlikely that any of its claims will survive – no matter how good it is.

“The PTAB may not be a death squad, but challenged patents are put in a kind of headlock that can render them useless. Where are the patents that emerge from IPRs generally intact or whose petitions against them for review are not instituted? They should be eminently licensable, but they are nowhere to be found. The ‘normalization’ statistics that are being cited to show that the PTAB is becoming a fairer forum for patent holders are highly misleading.”

Lack of Uniformity

Another patent licensing business, one whose petitioned patents have survived multiple IPRs, still believes that the lack of uniformity among the many PTAB panels and administrative law judges is a major factor in the continued unfairness that has effectively destroyed patent licensing for many companies and independent inventors.

“It’s difficult to predict how the PTAB will rule,” says the executive, a lawyer. “The first year or two that patents were subjected to IPRs there was a lot of low-hanging – really, rotting –  fruit. Those petitions were almost universally instituted, and many bad patents were appropriately eliminated.”

“But anyone can file and IPR and they can keep filing them. Reliable patents don’t seem to emerge from the process, only ‘bad’ ones, which are eventually neutralized. Few patent holders have the time or money to repeatedly defend themselves in IPRs. This has made otherwise licensable patents pretty much worthless and daily infringement, at least to some, an acceptable way of doing business.”

Image source: patentlyO.com; patentacademyonline.com; 

Bloody AC-DC patent war depicted in new novel by Oscar winner

If you thought the 19th Century was a kinder, gentler time for the people responsible for break-through inventions, you would be mistaken – it was not much better than today. 

The bitter battle for the electricity standard between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse was nastier than a bar room brawl. It has all the drama of a Hollywood movie, which, in fact, it is currently being made into.

Last Days of Night is a New York Times best-selling historical novel written by the Oscar-winning writer of “The Imitation Game.” It tells the true story of the battle between direct and alternating current for the electricity standard, one that involved fundamental patents, lawyers (Paul Cravath, 18 months out of Columbia Law School), lawsuits (312 of them), bankers (J.P. Morgan), a phobic inventor (Nikola Tesla), the press, and electrocutions of animals and a human.

Keen Observer

Last Days of Night is not classic literature. Its short chapters give it the feel of a pot-boiler. However, the book’s is timely for an ability to reveal character – good and bad – in the face of adversity and is a keen observer of the inventive process.

It is no surprise that its author, Graham Moore, won an Oscar for his adaptation of The Imitation Game, the story of British mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked the Nazi’s enigma code, but who was a victim of his time.

Moore is currently adapting Last Days into a major motion picture starring Eddie Redmayne, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the young Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Last Days movie, with an all-star team in control, has a good shot at achieving what few books and films have: a realistic portrait of the relationship between inventions and the people and systems that drive them.

Deeper Dive

IAM subscribers go here for the May issue, which contains “Book Sheds New Light on an Epic Patent Battle,” a deeper dive into this strangely inspiring, mostly factual, novel that reminds us that the premium on new ideas is as tied to people as it is to capital and genius.

Much to his credit, Graham Moore’s provides a lengthy note from the author, detailing what he condensed in the novel and why. His historical timeline (mrgrahammoore.com) helps readers to separate fact from fiction, for a fuller appreciation of the people and events that helped to secure a bittersweet victory for AC.

To purchase Last Days of Night, go here.

Image source: mrgrahammoore.com

Patent transactions are flat; U.S. asking prices firm at $250K per

The number of patent sales in the 4Q 2016 remained about the same, but the median asking price of sellers of U.S. patents was higher than in recent quarters.

According to data compiled by Richardson Oliver Law Group, a Silicon Valley firm that tracks patent transactions, five of the ten most active sellers were Asian companies, and the most active buyers were led by a variety of operating companies, defensive aggregators, and NPEs. In general, corporate buyers were more active than NPEs.

The median asking price of U.S. patents in the 4Q was $250K; all patents, $150K (see graph below).

As a trend, operating companies represent a higher percentage of overall patent purchases when looking at a five-year sample. The sale of software assets lagged hardware, but not by much, 180 to 234, for some an encouraging trend.  

“Buyers are becoming more comfortable with software risk and understanding what may and may not be ineligible under Alice,” said Kent Richardson, Managing Partner of ROL. 

Sales are flat, which Richardson believes can be interpreted as a sign of relative health, given how badly the case law has gone against patent owners. “Arguably, there should be fewer deals on the market and fewer sales. We won’t know for sure for another 12 months, but it looks like sales rates are climbing back to where they were a couple of years ago.”

Cloud-related inventions are more likely to be technically challenging in terms of patentability, compared with, say, user interface patents. Infrastructure inventions are much more likely to pass an Alice test.

“As a test, we are defaulting to ‘Would it be patentable to the Europeans?’,” concludes Richardson. “It’s not a perfect measure, but it works.”

Available Assets Down, Packages Up

The number of patent assets available in the market dropped 13.2 percent to 2,478 new assets in the fourth quarter from the previous quarter.

The number of patent packages listed rose 3.5 percent to 147 from the third quarter. (This could mean that fewer, better quality patents are being offered for sale.) However, 2,855 assets listed in the third quarter were offered in a smaller number of patent packages.

The median asking price per new asset (U.S. and global) listed by patent brokers was $150,000 in the fourth quarter. That reflected increases of 38 percent from the previous quarter and 80 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015.

Brokers matched buyers and sellers for 28 deals on packages of related patents during the quarter, according to ROL data. Those deals totaled 637 assets, comprising 395 granted or pending U.S. patents, while the remaining amount represented granted or pending foreign patents.

By comparison, 565 assets were sold in 35 brokered patent deals during the third quarter of 2016. In the fourth quarter of 2015, 554 assets sold in 33 patent packages.

For information about Richardson Oliver Law Group, go here.

Image source: RichardsonOliverLaw; Bloomberg/BNA

IP licensing leader Tessera renamed Xperi Corp in rebranding push

One of the leading public IP licensing companies, or PIPCOs, Tessera Holding Corporation, has changed its name to Xperi Corporation, an indication that it has altered its direction. 

The renaming is an apparent effort to place more emphasis on new lines of business outside of patent licensing after acquiring DTS, as well as facilitate the company’s lagging stock price. Tessera reported disappointing results that surprised Wall Street in late February.

The name change was announced on February 22. On February 23 Tessera/Xperi reported that it had missed its Q4 earnings by $.25 per share.

Stalling Stalwart?

Tessera (TSRA), InterDigital (IDCC) and Rambus (RMBS) have been the lead players among PIPCOs, with industry-leading market values of $2.2B, $2.9B and $1.4B respectively.

Tessera/Xperi (58ae87c857fd3-imageXPER) reported fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of 32 cents per share, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 25 cents. Also, revenues of $70 million missed the consensus mark.

Following the weak earnings release, share of the leading chip packaging and interconnect solutions provider slipped more than 13% in the after-hours trading. Over the past year, shares of Tessera Technologies underperformed the Zacks categorized Electronics Manufacturing Machinery industry. While the industry gained 27.66%, the stock generated a loss of 2.13%.

TSRA was 44.65 on February 22 with approximately $2.2B market cap. XPER is 35.55 on March 2 with a $1.7B valuation. A 2015 article the investment weekly Barron’s questioned how Tessera accounted for “recurring” revenues, which the publication said were really patent litigation settlements paid out over time, not royalty income.

In May 2016 Vringo changed its name to Form Holdings (FH).

“2016 was a transformational year with the combination of Tessera and DTS, which today we are excited to have rebranded as Xperi, reflecting our new vision of bringing together digital and physical experiences in smart, connected and personalized ways,” said Tom Lacey, Chief Executive Officer.

Acquisition of an Acquisition

On September 20 Tessera Holding announced its $850 million deal to acquire DTS, a premier audio solutions provider for mobile, logo2014_tagstack-sitehead_232x92_2xhome, and automotive markets. Only a year or so before that DTS entered into an agreement to acquire HD Radio developer iBiquity Digital Corp.

Tessera/Xperi says that its technologies and intellectual property are deployed in areas such as premium audio, computational imaging, computer vision, mobile computing and communications, memory, data storage, 3D semiconductor interconnect and packaging.

“We invent smart sight and sound technologies that enhance and help to transform the human connected experience.”

On February 8, 2016 Tessera’s shares were $26.57. They reached $44.74 on December 12, and excellent year by any standard, but closed flat at $44.65 on February 22. Since then its shares are down by $9 or about 20%.

On Yahoo! Finance, TSRA, the old stock symbol, shows the price of shares at the close of the session on February 22. A Google search of TSRA takes you to the new stock symbol for the company, XPER, which shows an end of Friday price of $35.10.

Image source: HDradio.com; zacks.com

Center for IP Understanding is started by leading IP execs to raise awareness, improve attitudes

The Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU), an independent, unaffiliated non-profit dedicated to increasing IP awareness and improving negative attitudes towards patents, copyrights and other rights, was launched in New York last week. 

As reported in IAM, Law 360, World IP Review and other publications, the non-profit Center for IP Understanding was founded to address the uncertainty among audiences regarding patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets — especially who do they benefit and their impact on new ideas and jobs.

“[The Centre’s] creation is in many ways a response to the battering that IP’s public image has taken over the last several years,” reported IAM blog, “particularly in the US. In that time a series of Supreme Court cipulogodecisions are widely seen to have undermined patent rights; the idea of efficient infringement has taken root; and the ‘patent troll’ narrative has gained wider traction in many parts the media.”

Outreach

Executives and advisors involved in CIPU on the board of directors or as informal advisors include Marshall Phelps (Microsoft, IBM, retired), Brian Hinman (Philips, active), Keith Bergelt (Open Invention Network, CEO), Harry Gwinnell (Cargill, Eastman Chemical, retired), and trade secret expert James Pooley (Orrick).

Also helpful in getting CIPU underway were Judge Paul Michel (Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, retire), David Kappos (Commissioner of the USPTO, retired) and film producer and author Irv Rappaport, former chief patent counsel at Apple and Medtronic, who has generated more than 20 patents, and Jonathan Taplin, a film producer, author and Director Emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab a the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the CIPU’s goals for 2017 are a survey of IP awareness and attitudes among the general public and business owners; a research report on trends in media coverage of patent disputes; and a possible joint conference with Duke University on Innovation Policy.

The Center for IP Understanding also plans to provide outreach to educators, parents and business that help to facilitate better IP behavior.

Cultural Shift

“We have entered the ‘free-information’ era, where online content and patented inventions are readily pocketed by those who would never dream of shoplifting,” said Bruce Berman, CIPU Chairman, and CEO of Brody Berman Associates. “Products like music, books, novel designs, inventions and counterfeit goods appear to be there for the taking – or feel as if they should be. Uncertainty about what IP rights cover and their appropriate use compound the problem. CIPU will address these and other issues.”

“IP confusion is costly for consumers and businesses alike,” said Vice-Chairman Marshall Phelps, who is a member of the IP Hall of Fame. “Free-riders – unauthorized users of IP-protected products and works – come in many shapes and sizes. They impact performance and investment, as well as job creation. IP awareness and acceptable behaviors are too important to be left to audiences to decide on their own.”

For the IAM story go here.

For the Law 360 article go here.

For the full launch announcement go here.

For more information about the Center for IP Understanding, please visit www.UnderstandingIP.org. 

Image source: The Center for IP Understanding

‘Innocent’ IP theft is widely accepted and dangerously viral – Why?

So widespread is IP abuse that it no longer is regarded as a crime by many of the people committing it or authorities entrusted to preventing it. 

What has happened to change law-abiding citizens and honest businesses into serial patent, copyright and trademark infringers?

Start with geometric increases in information and speed. Putting enormous computing (and copying) power in the hands of billions of people and tens of thousands of businesses has made access seamless. What’s theirs often feels like mine, even when it is not.

26069006_sA heightened sense of entitlement is another factor. People want their Rolex or Gucci bag, or latest Adele song, and they want it now, for a fraction of the actual cost if not for free. (The same could be said of the latest mobile phone chip.)

Many businesses believe that even if they did not invent a particular product feature, they definitely could have, and why should they pay for it if no one is forcing them to. Besides, someone has to identify infringement and prove it in court. Good luck with that.

Unusual Bond

Consumers and companies have an unusual bond: they know that they can freely infringe without much fear of retribution. And you know what, they think — “everyone seems to be doing it lately.”

A third but not final reason is suspicion of IP rights and owners. Patents, copyrights, trademarks all are government-issued, lawyer-administered and business-owned rights. The average person will never own an IP right and believes that benefiting from them is for the privileged or wealthy. They are only partially right. No one – not the lawmakers, not federal agencies, not the police, the schools or businesses or community leaders – has done a very good job of explaining what’s in IP for them?

Fueling the Rise in IP Abuse

“When theft is no crime” in the March IAM magazine, the Intangible Investor looks at the rise in IP abuse and what is fueling it. IAM subscribers can go here for the full article.

Free riding comes in many shapes and sizes. It is economically a threat and constantly growing. It has become so much a part of American fabric that millions of people, businesses and community leaders are not even aware that it is taking place. IP theft may seem like a victimless crime, but data shows it is not.

The Department of Commerce’s 2016 update, Intellectual Property and the US Economyreports that IP-intensive industries supported 45.5 million jobs and contributed $6.6 trillion in value added, equivalent to free-riding-final-2-768x34638.2% of US gross domestic product. These impressive results for IP holders are far from guaranteed if IP protections can be easily ignored. On the down side counterfeits, patent infringement music file sharing are way up.

Re-writing the Rules

Whether they acknowledge it or not, some companies and individuals are attempting to rewrite the property rule-book, or, at least, ignore it as long as they can. The impact may not be that readily apparent at first, but it will eventually be widely felt: by musicians, authors, inventors, investors, small businesses, consumers and companies selling products from automobile brake parts to pharmaceuticals and luxury goods – along with their employees. 

Lack of awareness plays a role in ignoring IP rights, but there may be something deeper and more insidious going on: distrust of authority and frustration with government and laws. Some of this anger has been orchestrated by anti-patent lobbyists.

Routine acceptance of IP theft also reflects the growing antipathy towards so-called ‘elites’, which led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Why IP holders don’t deserve exclusivity and land owners do is rooted in how the culture views IP rights and holders, as much as the difficulty accepting their value.

People need to be reminded that with IP rights, not every restriction is an obstacle.

________

I will be announcing a non-profit organization in a few weeks dedicated to addressing the lack of IP awareness and increasing hostility to rights. Watch IP CloseUp for more information.

Image source: digitalguardian.com; theCenterforIPUnderstanding

 

Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

In a few short years China’s patent system has gone from an IP rights wannabe to one of the most responsive and patent-friendly systems in the world.

Leading U.S. IP experts say that underlying this rapid evolution is a desire for China to become a science and technology powerhouse, with the ability to create new and formidable industries that employ many of its 1.4 billion people.

“China wants to be an innovation leader for multiple reasons,” Irv Rappaport, former Chief Patent Counsel at Apple and National Semiconductor, who served on the Uruguay Round of GATT, told IP CloseUp recently. “It is fascinating to see how the U.S. patent system is imploding, while the Chinese system is exploding with activity and purpose.

“For more than a decade the U.S. has been emasculating its patent system, while the Chinese have been studying it and adopting the benefits of a well-coordinated and fast-moving one. The U.S. has gone from being on the global cutting edge in IP in the 1990s, to becoming a patent backwater, because of a well-heeled, anti-patent faction among technology companies that want to stifle competition.

“Train Wreck”

“China has watched the U.S. train wreck and is moving fast to fill the void,”continues Rappaport. “It wants to become the world’s ‘Eastern District of TX,’ that is, a fair and fast adjudicator of disputes that respects patent holders’ rights. China will soon be the world’s largest economy with the biggest population and a middle class the size of England, France and Germany combined. Their commitment to innovation can not be ignored.”

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Peter Holden, CEO of ipCreate and former managing director with London-based Collar Capital and a founding executive with IP Value, has worked extensively with Asian companies and patents. He has traveled to Korea, China and Japan more than 100 times over the past twenty years. “The Chinese have learned from the U.S. and are sincere about making their IP system the best — one that will encourage innovation and help their nation to become the economic leader. It is not merely a thought. It’s an idea that they are dedicated to.

“China’s attitude towards foreign patent enforcement may not always be as generous as it is currently. It knows that it needs to bend over backwards to be fair if it is to be taken seriously on a global scale. To encourage competition there needs to be a level playing field.”

Counterfeits Still Rule

But China’s record on counterfeits is poor, with everything from luxury goods to pharmaceuticals sold domestically and exported globally. According the U.S. International Trade Commission, Chinese theft of U.S. IP in 2009 alone cost almost one million U.S. jobs and caused $48 billion in U.S. economic losses.

“Counterfeit goods are still an issue for China,” says Erick Robinson, a patent attorney in Beijing and author of Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation, in the current issue of IAM magazine. “However, sales of fake goods are no longer openly accepted and the government has been on the war path trying to stop them in different ways. Authorities know that in order to be taken seriously about IP rights, they cannot ignore the problem of counterfeit goods.”

For a prior IP CloseUp post summarizing the Robinson article, go here.

“Go-To” Jurisdiction

China is just beginning to build its giant tech companies. They have succeed with Alibaba and Huawei, and acquired Lenovo from IBM, which is now a $45 billion (USD) business. Their big businesses currently have less to lose from strong patents and quick dispute resolution than those in the U.S. and Europe. To create successful businesses and attract investment, incentives need to be provided, and strong patents and a reliable legal system for adjudicating disputes are great for encouraging that.

Perhaps when China has as many big tech players as the U.S. it will start to think more defensively, but for now it is the perfect setting for encouraging new ideas with strong patents and courts that make it easy to obtain injunctions.

“It’s interesting that the Chinese are encouraging large foreign corporations to sue non-Chinese companies in China,” opines Rappaport. “This suggests that they are looking to become the patent litigation go-to jurisdiction.” As their innovation grows and becomes more complex, I believe they will have less interest in exporting cheap knock-
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offs.  Their IP path is similar to that followed by many of today’s developed economies, such as Japan and South Korea.  You start off copying others and gradually move to internal innovation.”

Despite China’s success in facilitating stronger patents and more decisive courts, a huge question is just how prominent a role will patents play in new companies in a data-driven information age.

“Given the accelerating pace of technology development and nature of discoveries, which are frequently software driven, it’s not clear whether existing patent systems can remain relevant in the longer term,” says Rappaport. ” This effect may partially explain why patents currently seem to be less relevant in the U.S.  It remains to be seen whether this is a longer term development. It is a development that needs to watched.”

“100% Win Rate”

“Trust the Chinese government to do what is best for the Chinese people,” reminds Beijing-based Robinson. “It’s less about assisting foreign patent holders than establishing a really viable IP system that encourages innovation and growth, and that attracts foreign investment. Forty-percent of the smart phones in India are currently manufactured by Chinese companies. Innovation coupled with enforcement will drive China’s new businesses and help them grow.”

As reported by Robinson in IAM, “foreign plaintiffs notched a 100% win rate [65 – 0] in civil cases heard by the Beijing IP Court last year, according to a judge who has been on its roster since it was established in 2014.”

Wake-Up Call

A decade of weakening has taken its toll on the U.S. patent system and patent holders. It will not be quick to recover unless a concerted effort can be made to take IP rights seriously. Allowing U.S. patent policy to be dictated by those with the greatest financial success and market share may be appealing to shareholders, but it is not necessarily what is needed for the nation to remain competitive in a global economy, and to generate new businesses and jobs.

Hopefully, the wake-up call comes soon for the U.S. and it can retain the title of innovation leader it has held since the 19th Century but is slipping away.

Image source: insideiim.com; chinapatentblog.com; wsj.com

China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the leading patent system

A few years ago a company whose patents were violated in China had little or no chance of defending its rights. 

Determined to move beyond its role as a low-cost provider of look-alike consumer products, and establish itself as an innovation leader, China has learned from the successes – and mistakes – of other intellectual property systems, especially the U.S. The nation of 1.4 billion inhabitants has rapidly emerged as what is currently among the fairest and most patent holder-friendly systems in the world.

Chinese patent courts second only, perhaps, to Germany in quickly and fairly adjudicating disputes.

A fascinating article in the current IAM magazine, “Defending a patent case in the brave new world of Chinese patent litigation,” details China’s rapid rise from low-cost copier to a patent power, and a nation that has caught the attention of major global technology powers who are often defendants.

Damages awards are relatively small in China, with median awards currently around 35,000 Renminbi or about $5,000, but injunctions, the power to stop a likely infringing product from being sold, are now issued over 99% of the time to winning parties. NPEs, what some U.S. companies refer to as patent “trolls,” are treated fairly as long as they their patents are of sufficient quality and are the companies are generally supportive of Chinese welfare.

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Patent litigation win rates, according to the article, average around 80%. Startlingly, foreign plaintiffs fare better statistically than Chinese. 

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The U.S. effectively ended the granting of patent injunctions in 2006 with EBay v. MercExchange. Now, only operating companies can obtain them in rare circumstances. This removes most of the leverage afforded patent holders. Granted, injunction abuses are a fact of life, and dubious patents have at times been used to enjoin products, costing companies time and money. But without the power to stop a product from being sold, patents have little meaning.

Race to the Bottom

“Largely as a result of the United States’ race to the bottom in terms of patent enforcement, Germany has emerged as a go-to patent jurisdiction, with virtually guaranteed injunctions, quick time to trial and no discovery resulting in a highly efficient system,” writes Beijing-based Erick Robinson, chief patent counsel, Asia-Pacific for Rouse, a global IP strategy firm.

Patent-holder Win-Rates and Median Damages Awards 

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“Enter China. For years the laughing-stock of all things IP related, the Middle Kingdom was ridiculed for the easy availability of counterfeit handbags, software and DVDs. However, over the last 15 years, and especially in the last two to three, China has put together an extremely effective patent enforcement system. Based largely on the German system and all of its advantages, but with selected portions from US law, China has now become a top forum for patent litigation.”

Unlike most countries which enjoin making, using and selling allegedly infringed products in-country, as well as imports, Chinese law also bans infringing exports from leaving the country. So, for example, if the accused device is Apple’s iPhone, not only can sales of iPhones in China be enjoined, but also exports of the devices from China. This would enable a patent owner to achieve an effective worldwide ban, since iPhones are manufactured in China.

Slippery Slope

With U.S. patent protection significantly diminished over the past decade, and China’s on the rise, the U.S. is on a slippery slope when it comes to stimulating R&D, innovation and investment. It is well on its way to becoming a second-rate patent system, and a slip in disruptive innovation, necessary for the creation of new industries, difficult to measure in real-time, has probably started. Certainly, companies and their stakeholders are thinking twice before pursuing or relying upon USPTO-issued patent protection.

It remains to be seen if China, a continuing source of counterfeit goods that are shipped worldwide, is committed to providing its businesses, as well as those outside of the country, with a legal system that can meet the needs of all business holders, and permit fair and timely resolution of legitimate disputes.

High Win-Rates; Low Damages Awards

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China is now the second largest filer in the U.S. and, while its companies have rarely resorted to filing suits in the U.S. against U.S. companies, there is little doubt that it will do so in the future. Technology giants include Alibaba, Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo.

China is likely to be more aggressive enforcing its patents than U.S. frequent-filer Japan, which has been reluctant to engage in domestic or foreign patent disputes. (There are some signs that is changing.) Samsung, by far the largest holder of U.S. patents in the world, has shown a greater willingness use its patents for licensing and leverage.

China may or may not be deliberately attempting to embarrass U.S. and eventually surpass its moribund IP system, but the impact is the same. Continued lack of awareness of what IP rights achieve and for whom, and lobbying, has significantly compromised the once-exemplary U.S. patent system. The Chinese are not too new to capitalism not to see this as an opportunity to compete. For the U.S.’ sake, let’s hope it’s not too late to make invention rights a priority again.

Subscribers can access The brave new world of Chinese patent litigation here.

FUTURE POST: What patent experts believe China’s patent-friendly system means for the U.S. – Experts: Void from U.S. patent “train wreck” is being filled by China’s patent system

Image source: IAM magazine

InterDigital leads PIPX public IP stock index to a 44.9% gain for 2016

The PIPX public IP licensing company stock index soared to a 44.9% increase in 2016, led by an impressive 86.3% move for InterDigital.

With a market capital in excess of $3 billion, InterDigtal (IDCC) led the value weighted PIPX with another stellar performance.  Poor performers for the year included Neonode (-27.3%, NEON), ParkerVision (-20.0%, PRKR) and VirnetX (-14.4%, VHC), who made less of a dent in overall PIPX performance because of their lack of market value. The S&P 500 stock index for the year was up 9.5%, a significant portion in the 4Q following November’s presidential election.

“For Q4 the PIPX index was up 11.2% after a remarkable 20.4% in Q3,” noted Dr. Kevin Klein, Vice President and GM of Products and Licensing at VORAGO Technologies, who compiled the IP stock performance data for IP CloseUp. “Pendrell underwent a reverse 1:10 split during Q4, as have several other of the smaller companies in the index, another example of the their shrinking share price and market capitalization.”

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The imminent departure of President Obama, an advocate of weaker patents, and the election of Donald Trump, a strong supporter of proprietary content and brand, also may have had something to do with strong 4Q performance for the PIPX.

Despite the over all gains for year and quarter, Marathon (MARA) and ParkerVision were down 38.8% and 56.3% respectively in the 4Q, and were up 7.5% and down 20.0% for the year. Litigation developments were likely influences.

For both the year and 4Q, performance for InterDigital Tessera (TSRA) and Acacia (ACTG) accounted for all the PIPX gain and offset some of the losses from the smaller component companies.

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“InterDigital, Tessera, and Rambus (RMBS) continue to drive the recent growth in the index and make up an ever-increasing share of the index,” stated Dr. Klein. “These three companies accounted for 37% of the total value of the index at the inception in 2011, today they make up over 80% of the total value of the index. InterDigital alone now accounts for over 40%, up from 15% at inception.”

Change in value of PIPX component companies 2011-2016

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Five Years of Data

After more than five full years of tracking, the PIPX seems to be suggesting that a handful of strong IP licensing companies are getting stronger and the weaker (smaller) ones are becoming more volatile.

For the full 2016 and 4Q PIPX report, go here.

 Image source: PIPX IP Stock Index

 

IP CloseUp visits were up 81% in 2016, breaking previous record

It was the second record-breaking year in a row for IP CloseUp readership, with 43,946 visits in 2016, an 81% increase from 24,273 in 2015. The previous record increase was 31% in 2015, up from 2014.

The most popular51yeitvgpal post was “Kearns’ son still fuming over wiper blade suit,” with 21,652 views. Other popular posts included “For Samsung charity begins at home, Marshall, TX,” coming in with 5,464.

The Kearns article, detailing his 12-year patent suit with Ford and other auto companies, has generated 31,081 hits since it was originally posted in 2011.

Renewed interest in the Kearns biopic detailing the inventor’s patent suit, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda, likely stimulated interest in the topic, as well as new obstacles to patent licensing.

 

Image source: amazon.com; hippajournal.com

 

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