Efficient infringers should have to pay

During a recent webinar on the current state of patent valuation, Ashley Keller, co-founder and Managing Director of Gerchen Keller, and I discussed the phenomenon of efficient infringement.

Efficient infringement, which can be a rather cold-hearted business calculation, is when a decision is made to infringe regardless (or in spite of) the presence of patents and whether the underlying activity will constitute patent infringement. Rather than seek out or take an offered patent license, it is determined that it would be better, cheaper and certainly more expedient to simply infringe.

To my surprise, Keller did not really have a problem with efficient infringement. Rather, Keller’s issue is more nuanced. Efficient infringement is an acceptable business decision but those that choose to efficiently infringe should be required to pay for infringement when caught, which is where the system is breaking down presently.


The rise of efficient infringement, a problem for universities

Recent overhauls to America’s patent laws have forced universities and other patent owners into a corner when asserting their rights. Last October, The New York Times reported on the rise of “efficient infringement” which has increased in the wake of the 2011 America Invents Act. Tools created by that legislation to challenge patent validity, such as through the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), allow major companies with huge amounts of financial and legal resources to ignore reasonable licensing inquiries and to shift the burden onto the patent owner by challenging the patent’s validity.

Many say that hostility toward patents in the courts has reached new heights, with numerous cutting-edge innovations dealing with software, biotechnology, medical diagnostics and personalized medicine all being routinely found patent ineligible. Rather than take patent licenses, or even engage in negotiations, many companies have calculated that they are better served by ignoring patent rights and openly infringing. These efficient infringers dare universities and other patent owners to sue.

As the New York Times article notes, however, there has been a troubling pattern of associating universities with so-called “patent trolls”on the basis that, like other non-practicing entities (NPEs), universities don’t manufacture products but license their technologies to others. But universities are not patent trolls. In fact, the primary goal of the university is to make sure that as much research done at the university is commercialized as possible.