Thursday 6 April 2017

Preparation for (more) Patent Assertion Entites in Europe: Intellectual Property 2 Innovate

As reported by Florian Mueller on the FOSS Patents Blog on April 5, a relatively new organization has been formed to raise awareness of and presumably lobby against patent assertion entities in Europe.  The organization is called Intellectual Property 2 Innovate and its members include: Adidas, Google, Intel, Bull AtWios Technologies, Proximus, Spotify, Wiko, Daimler, the European Semiconductor Industry Association, and Syndicat De Industrie Des Technologies De L'Information.  Notably, the Intellectual Property 2 Innovate website has references to a list of suits brought by patent assertion entities in Europe, media reports concerning patent assertion activity in Europe and third party studies concerning patent assertion entities in Europe.  The website includes link to a helpful seven page position paper, which states in part:

Patents support innovation by allowing companies to protect their technology from copying, to share and develop new technology, and to obtain the freedom to operate necessary to bring new products to market.  But a patent system that can be manipulated through abusive litigation tactics, including the assertion of low quality patents, will undermine rather than support innovation, disserving consumers and the economy by draining scarce resources from the development of new products.

The dramatic rise in patent litigation involving PAEs is a dangerous trend that merits the attention of EU policy makers. In the United States, lawsuits brought by PAEs have nearly quadrupled over the past decade.1 PAEs now account for a majority of all patent litigation.2  Small and medium-sized entities (SMEs) are frequently the targets of these assertions, facing lawsuits that can disrupt their business and even threaten their survival.3,4

In Europe, PAE lawsuits have begun to follow the same trajectory, growing in number and often targeting SMEs.  PAE activity has long existed in Europe, accounting for roughly 10% of the lawsuits filed in Germany between 2000 and 2008 and in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2013.5 More recent evidence, however, suggests that PAE activity is accelerating rapidly. An empirical study of the registers for recording patent ownership in Europe demonstrated that PAE purchases of European patents increased ten-fold from 2005 to 2015.6 Most of the transferred patents involved communications or computer technology and were purchased by PAEs based in the United States. Those purchases now form the basis of a growing number of PAE lawsuits in Europe against productive companies. European countries together received 80% of all PAE cases filed outside the US over the past five years.7 Germany receives by far the greatest number, with the large majority of those cases proceeding during 2015 and 2016.8 A recent study provides examples of lawsuits brought by PAEs in Europe.9 According to this study, while PAEs account for 19% of known patent lawsuits filed in Europe accounted for in the study, it is nonetheless a significant fraction which will undoubtedly come to increase in the next years. This rate corresponds roughly to the same level of PAE activity in the US in the early 2000s to mid-2005. Despite the alarming data and active discussions amongst the legal community, US public authorities nevertheless did not seriously tackle this problem which has led patent lawsuits to skyrocket in the US since then.

The position paper further suggests: increasing judicial discretion to minimize abusive patent practices and encourage higher quality patents as well as make better data available concerning patent litigation across Europe.  According to the paper, these measures are necessary in light of the soon-to-be operational European Patent Court. 

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