Thursday, August 11, 2011

Understanding Non-Practicing Entity Patent Infringement Litigation (Somewhat)

By Jack Pringle

Patents provide important intellectual property (IP) protection for inventors. Determining whether something you create is considered a patentable invention, and obtaining a patent through the USPTO is a complicated process. The University of South Carolina Office of Intellectual Property offers some Resources for Inventors that may be helpful in understanding the patent process and the way IP is licensed.

I read from time to time about patent infringement litigation, and particularly those cases where a "non-practicing entity" (a company that owns a patent but has not developed a product that actually uses it) seeks damages from a company who (not coincidentally) has substantial revenues and market capitalization. Perhaps the most famous of these cases to date was NTP's action against Research In Motion, the maker of the Blackberry.

Like many who follow these cases, I am interested in the legal and policy rationales for allowing an entity that does not use a patent it owns to enforce its ownership against another company.

Two recent podcasts explore that topic and other patent issues.

This American Life devoted an entire episode, entitled When Patents Attack to the topic. TAL offers a good overview of the patent process and recounts, among other things, the origin of the term "Patent Troll."

For a more in-depth legal analysis, you can check out this podcast hosted by David Levine of The Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Levine interviews Professor Michael Risch of Villanova, who has a forthcoming law review article entitled Patent Troll Myths.