Tuesday 5 November 2013

Chief Judge Rader’s Recent Comments on Patents and the Federal Circuit Bar Association

The Federal Circuit Bar Association (FCBA) recently released a copy of the remarks of Chief Judge Rader at the recent Eastern District of Texas Bench and Bar Conference.  The FCBA is the bar association for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears patent appeals from the district courts in the U.S. along with appeals from the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Chief Judge Rader’s comments address criticisms against the U.S. patent system including the assertion of the tragedy of the anticommons as well as supposed litigation abuses by so-called patent trolls.  Chief Judge Rader notes that empirical evidence doesn’t support the tragedy of the anticommons theory and that the smart phone is a great example of, basically, how the anticommons does not exist.  I believe our fellow blogger Keith Mallinson supports Chief Judge Rader’s view; although I believe, if my memory serves me correctly, that some would argue there is an anticommons like effect in the genetic diagnostics field.  I also wonder about price.  Here are Chief Judge Rader’s comments about the anticommons theory:

As an illustration of the crisis of confidence in the benefits of Patent Law, I wished to just discuss one unsubstantiated charge against the merits of this system of Constitutional dimension.  Academics often charge the Patent system with creating a so-called “tragedy of the anti-commons.”  This academic canard suggests that a “thicket” of patents can actually inhibit innovation; that the administrative burdens of enforcing patents can multiply to frustrate the goal of the Act.  Thus, the law of innovation supposedly works against itself.  In an age of empirical research to verify every legal hypothesis, I would urge you and any policymaker to reject this academic supposition – whether it comes from a high court or any other source – until and unless it is verified by empirical data.   By the way, the only studies on this topic that I have seen could not verify this guess but generally confirmed the opposite – that patents spur innovation. 

May I offer a common sense rebuttal to this academic hypothesis?  [Hold up my smart phone]  This smart phone resides in the technological space most occupied by patents, perhaps in the history of patent law dating back to 1624.  With design patents as part of the equation, this device probably includes easily more than a thousand active patents.  If you count expired patents in this technology back to the advent of the computer age, this device would implicate tens of thousands of patents.  If ever the administrative burdens of a concentration of patents would inhibit innovation, this technology would be the place to observe that encumbrance.  Now you tell me: is this technology experiencing sluggish and encumbered innovation?   I doubt that I could keep track of the pace of innovation in this technology if I devoted my full time to the project.   

No doubt a study would show that the disclosure benefits of patents bring the entire world into the innovation circle that drives smart phone technology forward faster than any of us can fathom.    I am afraid the “tragedy of the anti-commons” has its own tragedy: it simply is academic nonsense.  The patent system does not inhibit invention.

Chief Judge Rader cites his experience working both in the judiciary and in Congress in cautioning the Congress to carefully enact reforms, if any, and to allow the judiciary to correct for any issues from litigation abuse.  Chief Judge Rader first points to the definitional problems concerning the “patent troll”:

Again in simple terms, litigation abuse is a court problem and courts have the best tools to supply the correction. 

Perhaps I could suggest a way that classification fails to address this problem.  Litigation abuse sometimes invites an equally abusive strategy of correction.  This misguided strategy attempts to define some patent-owning entities as the source of the problem.  Regardless of whether you call them NPEs or PAEs or “trolls” or whatever pejorative term suits your fancy, this definition strategy is itself an abuse.   

American law and ethics does not enforce or condition enforcement of basic laws and policy on the characteristics of a party.  American law treats big company and small company, foreign entity and domestic entity, different genders, races, and ethnicities ALIKE.  Our law does not make distinctions based on the characteristics of parties but on their actions proven in a court of law.  The definition of a “troll” will always be over-inclusive or under-inclusive to the detriment of justice.  Instead of finger-pointing and name-calling, the law needs to focus on blameworthy conduct.

Finally, Chief Judge Rader points to three potential avenues of help against so-called trolls.  First, the courts increased use of summary judgment to curb some claims.  Second, the award of attorney fees in exceptional cases—and he notes that the Federal Circuit is “on course” to make it easier for courts to find an exceptional case.  Finally, he points to litigation expense reform and model orders promulgated by the FCBA and the Federal Circuit Advisory Council.  The E-Discovery model order is available here.  The full text of Chief Judge Rader’s remarks are here. 
Since I mentioned the FCBA, I’ll give a “plug” for the FCBA and a panel I am moderating soon.  The FCBA offers a number of other activities, including webinars, conferences and interesting opportunities such as the International Series and the Global Fellows Series.  The FCBA also publishes a newsletter and a law review, The Federal Circuit Bar Journal.  Membership costs are relatively modest and all webinars offered by the organization are free for members.  I am pleased to work with the Diversity Committee of the FCBA and we are offering a webinar, in conjunction with the Law Clerks and Students Committee, concerning intellectual property career planning directed at law students and attorneys with 1-5 years of experience.  The webinar is free for students and members, and will be held this Wednesday (November 6) from noon to 1:30 pm (Pacific Standard Time).  The panelists are: Judge Paul Grewal, Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California; Jack Hobaugh, Counsel and Senior Director of Technology, Network Advertising Initiative, Washington D.C.; Paul Korniczky, Partner, Leydig, Voit & Meyer, Chicago, Illinois; Christy LaPierre, Associate, K&L Gates, San Francisco, California; Kim Tran, Associate, Perkins Coie, Palo Alto, California; and A. E. Williams, Retired Patent Examiner, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

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