Tag Archives: Law 360

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 IPRs are said to be a patent office “second look,” but while patent office re-examinations (an earlier review process superseded by IPRs) eliminated many patents that should not have seen the light of day, they also strengthened some, making them easier to license.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; 

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

PTAB instituted IPRs are flat after declining slightly in 2015

After declining 9% in 2015 from the 2014 fiscal year Patent Trial and Appeal Board-instituted inter partes reviews (IPRs) have leveled off.

Instituted reviews were at 74% in 2014, went to 65% in 2015 and are thus far at 66% for fiscal year 2016. This is according to, “PTAB Grants Lower Rare of IPRs as Patent Owners Fight Back,” by Erin Coe in Law 360.

Coe reports that patent holders have “an 86 percent chance of seeing the PTAB find some or all of the instituted claims unpatentable, according to the total number of IPR trials that reached final decisions in the review period.”

The declining rate has been attributed to among other things, improved quality of the patents being put before the PTAB, although it still is reviewing about two-thirds of the patents that petitioners request.

An analysis through August 2015 showed that instituted reviews result in invalidation of one or more claims 88% of the time; invalidity success rate for patents with fully instituted petitions is 82%.

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The Kill Rate Analysis

According to Amy Simpson and Hwa Lee, attorneys at Perkins Coie LLP, the key take-aways or recent IPR activity:

1. Very few petitioners are walking away empty-handed: 88 percent of petitions with final written decisions resulted in at least one claim being invalidated.

2. A notable percentage — 21 percent — of all final written decisions resulted in complete invalidation of the patent.

3. Success starts and ends with the petition. The invalidity success rate for fully instituted petitions is 82 percent while the invalidity success rate for partially instituted petitions plummets to 52 percent. The PTAB’s first impression of the petition’s strength appears to affect the entire preceding and ultimate outcome.

Simpson and Lee analyzed all of the approximately 404 final written decisions on instituted IPRs from September 2012 through Aug. 1, 2015 to explore the factors behind IPR kill rates.

Image source: Law360.com via USPTO

“Happy Birthday” is an orphan copyright, not yet public domain

U.S. District Judge George H. King’s ruling earlier this week means that “Happy Birthday to You” is now what’s known as an “orphan work” — a copyrighted work that’s so old that nobody knows who to pay in order to use it legally.

It is not necessarily in the public domain but may be by default.

As expertly reported in Law 360, nobody is sure who, if anyone, owns “Happy Birthday” if Warner Music doesn’t. Did the Hills [original owners] have heirs who could claim ownership? Did they have business partners who could have passed rights along?

“The ruling highlights a current issue that many in the copyright field complain about,” attorney Naomi Jane Gray said. “Copyright now lasts so long that it can be very difficult to find the author in order to even try to ask them for permission to legitimately use their work.”

$2 Million in Annual Royalties

“While it might come as a surprise to most that anybody claimed to ‘own’ the ubiquitous birthday song,” reported Law 360, “Warner/Chappell had for years been quietly doing just that, raking in an estimated $2 million a year in licensing fees from filmmakers and C9E3AA0F864-184002687952B1A0FF62741others.

“Warner/Chappell, the publishing unit of Warner Music Group, long claimed that it had inherited a 1935 copyright for the song from a company it purchased in 1988, but a group of filmmakers and artists who paid those licensing fees challenged that claim in court in 2013. They said they’d found new documentary evidence that cast doubt on Warner’s claim and that they wanted their money back.

“On Tuesday, they won big. A California federal judge ruled that Warner’s predecessor company — Summy Co., which purportedly acquired the rights from the song’s original authors — had only acquired the rights to the song’s melody, which had long since passed into the public domain.”

As for the lyrics? There was no proof that Summy had ever actually acquired them, meaning Warner never owned them either.

For the full analysis go here.

Image source: http://www.ohmygoodness.com


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