Friday, February 6, 2015

WSJ - Patent Reform Bill Arises Again in Congress

Tonight, I suggest reading the Wall Street Journal article Patent Reform Bill Arises Again in Congress, discussing Congress' latest effort to change US patent law to address patent litigation abuse.

If you want details, here's Innovation Act 2015, which I will refer to as the Bill. If you want a brief account of Congress' latest patent reform, here's the key changes with brief comments:

1. Attorney Fee Awards - Current law permits the recovery of attorney fees to the prevailing party in an exceptional case, while the new law would require an award attorney fees to the prevailing party unless a judge finds that (1) the legal position and litigation conduct of the non-prevailing party was reasonably justified in law and fact; or (2) special circumstances (e.g., severe hardship to inventor) make attorney fee awards unjust. If the patent owner cannot pay the attorney fees, the court can make "the interested parties" (e.g., investors) pay the attorney fees.

My comment - This is a major change from the American rule where each party pays its own attorney fees. It will reduce patent litigation by smaller companies as they will now have to bear the risk of paying all of the attorneys if they lose and a court decides the legal position was unjustified and cannot establish special circumstances. No doubt many defendants may want this, but the Supreme Court's Highmark and Octane decisions adequately protect the "poor defendants" who hope to reduce patent litigation to just a "sport of kings."

2. Complaints Need Claim Charts - When a patent owners sues for patent infringement, the complaint will need to include a claim chart showing how the claim(s) read on the accused product or process except if it cannot be reasonably known before filing the complaint. Form 18 governing the content of complaints is eliminated, but not if you are pharmaceutical company.

My comment - this higher pleading standard will eliminate some patent infringement suits, because preparing a claim chart makes one stare at the infringement case. If you can't do a claim chart, maybe the case should not be filed. Placing the initial cost of a claim chart on the patent owner is better than asking a court to take on a poorly researched case that wastes court resources and defendant's money. Not sure eliminating Form 18 is useful. The Judicial Conference already says it plans to eliminate Form 18 in 2015 and why give pharmaceuticals "a free pass" on Form 18?

3. PTAB Claim Construction - The Bill proposes to replace the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB)'s broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) for claims in inter partes review, post-grant review, and covered business methods with the court's narrower interpretation of claims.

My comment - This will help patents survive invalidity challenges in the USPTO, and better corresponds to the reality that patent owners rarely succeed on motions to amend claims.

4. Limit Discovery - This has a couple of parts: (1) claim construction must happen before much discovery occurs; and (2) only large companies or posting a bond will get discovery of non-core documents.

My comment - Claim construction before significant discovery sounds right, but saying a large company gets discovery without posting a bond only increases their advantages over a smaller company, and may raise disputes on whether certain requested discovery is "core" or "non-core."

5. Willful Infringement  - The Bill would require demand letters identify the patent, the patent owner, accused product, and importantly how the product infringes at least one claim of the patent.

My comment - This imposes another claim chart into the process of patent enforcement, which of course helps defendants avoid treble damages by merely showing a claim chart did not accompany the demand letter.

6. Transparency of Ownership - This penalizes a patent owner who fails to update the USPTO within 90 days on changes of ownership with no enhanced damages, or attorney fees and an award of attorney fees to the defendant who spent money researching the ownership information.

My comment - Patent ownership should be transparent during enforcement, but the consequences of missing the 90 day window sounds draconian. Paying the attorney fees to find out the actual ownership should suffice.

7. Stay of Customer Suits - Courts may stay (suspend) a patent infringement suit of a customer lawsuits when the manufacturer of the product challenges the patent.

 My comment - Why would anyone sue a customer?

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