Google Changes the Game Again–This Time for Patent Owners and Those Who Serve Them

Patrick Anderson of the great Gametime IP blog reported the details of Google’s new prior art searching tool*.   This is such important news, I thought it important to repeat it in a separate post.  Patrick provides detailed instructions for how to use the Google patent searching tool, and I will not repeat that information here.  This post provides commentary on why I think this is a very good development for the patent world.   Google’s original announcement on its blog is here.  It does not appear coincidental that Google is upgrading its patent searching capabilities:  in this press release from June 2010 we are informed of the partnership between Google and the USPTO to increase the amount of US patent information available to the public. When used correctly, Google’s tool can help “democratize” the patent analysis process by putting more power in the hands of those who are not part of the closed “guild” of patent professionals.  For example, before spending money on a search (and the opinion that most patent professionals will insist on writing to put context to the search), an inventor can herself get a feel for not just the patentability of her invention, but also Continue Reading →

False Patent Marking Lawsuit Update: A Tale of Successful Defense Strategy

In November, 2010, I wrote a blog post where I talked about a client who was sued for false marking, even though they had months before the suit changed the packaging of their product.  We subsequently obtained a good result with our litigation strategy, and I think others may benefit from this experience.  Moreover, I think it is important for we lawyers to share strategies for the overall benefit of our respective clients.  This is not done enough:  we legal experts all-too-frequently provide sagely advice from the comfort of our own siloed client experiences.  For the past 3 years as a blogger, I have been working to build a more public dialogue on IP strategy, and did not want to let this opportunity go by to let others know of a successful strategy in dealing with a false marking litigation.  (I feel comfortable sharing my experiences with this litigation, which I think others can benefit from, because my relationship with this client is confidential.  I work for them as a consultant on various IP strategy and innovation management issues, and I have been helping out with this matter to my patent litigation background.) As related in the November blog post, Continue Reading →

Business Can’t Hide from False Patent Marking Lawsuits: Here’s How to Predict If You Might be Sued

The take home message:  If your company sells a product that bears a patent number, you need to read this post in its entirety. Much has been written in recent months about false marking lawsuits, most of these in the form of “urgent legal alerts” by law firms that calmly deconstruct the appellate court rulings (this one is illustrative).  At the end of the day, these articles likely do not look very “urgent” to business people like yourself because most business people do not engage themselves with patent law generally, let alone something as arcane as false marking.  So, even though the subject excites us a patent experts, we really cannot expect you to get excited about something that does not seem to affect your ability to conduct business today. However, if your business is a likely target of a false marking lawsuit it will cost you big bucks almost immediately.  These surprise costs could very well derail your ability to turn a profit in the near future, and could even put some struggling companies out of business.  But what if I told you that getting sued for false marking is a highly predictable event?  You might even be able Continue Reading →

Much Ado About Patent Marking: Why It is So Hard for Corporations to Get It Right and Why False Marking Lawsuits Might be a Good Thing Overall

It is fairly rare for patents to make hit the radar screen of mainstream news outlets but, recently, there has been much space allotted to the issue of patent mis-marking and lawsuits being brought by third parties for “violation” of the law requiring that products cannot be marked with an incorrect patent number.  Indeed, the usually substance-free local paper in my mother’s Southwest Florida community reported about the flood of patent mis-marking lawsuits.  And, it is no wonder that the undoubtedly arcane issue of patent marking has reached the status of “news” in a small-town paper given the huge number of cases currently pending in the federal courts.  It seems as if patent marking litigation may be the new business model for trial lawyers who are looking for a new “gravy train” to extract substantial legal fees from corporations whose activities violate the letter (but not necessarily the spirit) of the law. First, an explanation:  U.S. patent law expressly dictates that products should be marked with the number of patent(s) with claims that cover that same product.  If one does not mark the product, the patentee cannot obtain damages for infringement that occurs either prior to its giving “actual notice” Continue Reading →

A Patent Reality Check: Litigation Not a Viable Revenue Source for Most Inventors

The ability of an intrepid inventor to strike it rich from a great idea seems to be embedded in the DNA of many Americans.  Perhaps this view emanates from the presence of patents in the US Constitution, which could create a feeling that US citizens have an “inalienable right” to use patent protection to their advantage.  Alternatively, people may perceive the occasional media reports of successful inventors and substantial patent litigation awards as a signal that patents can serve as a path to wealth for those with great ideas (certainly, this is the Hollywood view).  In truth, however, getting rich merely from a patent is a rare occurrence–maybe not as low a probability as winning the lottery, but the odds are incredibly long that any person can make money from a patented idea alone.  Think about it: if all it took was a patent to make someone wealthy, there would be a heck of a lot more rich people in this country given the huge numbers of patents that are granted by the US Patent Office every year. There are many reasons why the idea getting rich from patenting an idea is overstated, several of which I have discussed before on this Continue Reading →

Chief IP Counsel: Stop Trying to Change How Your Lawyers Bill You and Focus on the Model They Use to Provide Your Legal Services

As legal service fees continue to rise five percent or more year after year, corporate IP managers, such as Chief IP Counsel and the like, continually face pressures from their management teams to reduce outside counsel legal expenses. The current economic downturn has also resulted in corporate legal budgets being slashed, thus increasing the pressure on corporate IP managers to reduce outside counsel costs, even while IP asset value is becoming more important to C-level management. As a result, the need for corporate IP managers to achieve outside counsel fee relief while at the same time maintaining IP legal service quality is more acute than ever today. Today, there are a number of commonly accepted methods to achieve outside IP counsel fee relief including fixed (or “capped”) fee arrangements and a percentage reduction per total hours billed, as well as electronic billing systems set up to automatically audit law firm bills. For corporate IP managers, adoption of one or more of these methods certainly provides a perception of immediate relief. A corporate IP manager’s task of negotiating with his outside IP lawyers regarding legal service fees nonetheless amounts to nothing more than “pushing the same rock up the same hill” Continue Reading →

Without Disruptive Innovation, Many IP Law Firms are Destined to Meet the Same Fate as Buggy Whip Manufacturers

A possible upside to the recent economic downturn is that many previously accepted business models are being revealed as in need of substantial reinvention or even total elimination. The billable hour/leverage law firm model for legal services is one of these increasingly maligned business models, and is now appearing to be in danger of ending up in the dustbin of history. Specifically, even those who benefit handsomely from the billable hour, such as the Cravath firm’s many $ 800 per hour lawyers, now realize the fundamental irrationality of charging a client for time spent instead of value provided. This alone should signal that change is in the air. Notwithstanding the growing conversation about the need for alternative legal service billing methods, I fear that the majority of IP law firms will either try to ignore the desire for change or will respond by offering only incremental modifications to their existing methods of providing legal services to their clients. As someone with considerable experience dealing with IP lawyers, I believe that, unfortunately, the conservative nature of most IP attorneys means that IP firms will likely lag behind in client service innovations. Thus, I am of the opinion that many prestigious and Continue Reading →

How Asking One Fundamental Business Question Can Reduce Expense and Improve Business Outcome of Patent Litigation

While a majority of companies consider the cost of obtaining patent protection an essential element of the product and technology development process, few of these same organizations favor the prospect of asserting their patent rights against potential infringers. Moreover, no company relishes the prospect of being a defendant in a patent lawsuit. That most do not readily welcome patent litigation is not surprising given that the average cost of large case (i.e., over $25 MM at stake) patent litigation through trial in 2007 was about $5MM per party in 2007. For disposition of smaller cases, the total amount per party was about $1MM in 2004 dollars. Why does it cost so much for a patent owner to assert her patent rights against an alleged infringer? Put simply, patent litigation at its core is an adversarial undertaking in which lawyers typically define the meaning of a successful outcome. In this context, each discovery battle or brief writing episode serves as an essential battle that must be won in the overall patent litigation “war.” The patent litigation process itself can become an end unto itself, and the business interests of the parties become secondary to validation of the party’s legal positions by Continue Reading →

Do You Know Your Company Needs Strategic In-House IP Counsel, But Think You Can’t Afford It? One Company’s Solution is Hiring Part-Time Counsel

Analysts say that the current economic downturn will likely last at least until early 2010. While this no doubt seems like almost an eternity for the average consumer, for business strategic planning purposes, this date is just around the corner. Indeed, business managers at many companies are likely conducting “short term” strategic planning efforts targeted for introduction in mid-2010. This might account for the recent uptick in job postings for experienced corporate intellectual property attorneys. I see this increase in job opportunities as signifying that smart corporate leaders are realizing that sustainable business success requires companies to not only introduce innovative products and technology offerings, but also that they strategically protect such innovations. As a result, I believe that more companies will seek to hire strategic in-house IP counsel, which is good news for us IP types. Of course, the traditional model of hiring an in-house IP counsel results in significant costs to a company–likely at least $250K per year on a fully loaded headcount basis. Such an expense may be out of the question for many small or mid-sized companies; nonetheless, the cost of hiring a sophisticated in-house counsel does not eliminate the need for innovative businesses to engage Continue Reading →

Taking a Disciplined Approach to Protecting Innovation Investment Allows You to Reduce Legal Spends While Still Obtaining Necessary Patent Rights

This week, I am intrigued by what appears to be a recent convergence of reporting and blogging about the state of innovation in the US. There is an obvious concern by those who keep track of such matters that, in the current economic climate, government and business will “take a hatchet” to R & D and innovation budgets in an attempt to reduce overall costs. Such cutting is, of course, a rational short term solution to address today’s problems. Government and corporate leaders taking the long view will nonetheless understand that, when it comes to R & D and innovation spending, it is much better to apply the proverbial “scapel” to one’s budget. Moreover, as discussed by Tom Donahue (President and Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce) recently on The Huffington Post (h/t Front End of Innovation), intellectual property protection is a critical component of successful innovation efforts. No organization wants to give its competitors, whether another company or country, free R & D–but, that is exactly what happens when an innovative organization fails to include patent protection a critical component in its innovation strategy. It is therefore mandatory that an organization that chooses to “bite the bullet” and Continue Reading →