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Category: Courts

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Proxy Patent Litigation II

Previously I posted on the issue of proxy patent litigation. Basically, mass patent aggregators (entities which own or control a large number of patents that they have acquired from elsewhere) litigate only a few of the patents in their portfolio against a large accused infringer. The litigated patents serve as proxies for the quality of their entire portfolio. If the aggregator is successful on the merits (or at least in preliminary rulings, such as defeating the accused infringer’s motions for summary judgment on invalidity and non-infringement), it strengthens their hand considerably in negotiations for a license for the entire portfolio. The proxy litigation is also only one part of a broader dynamic from the aggregator’s perspective:  the aggregator’s success in court against one practicing entity not only puts it in a stronger bargaining position against that entity, it may also do so with the rest of industry as well (i.e., other firms may be willing to pay more for a portfolio license).

I now attempt to answer a question I posed in my previous post. Specifically, if the court understood the underlying dispute was litigation-by-proxy, would it (or could it) proceed any differently?

I think it is useful to consider this question through the prism of the classic project management triangle. According to theory, a project has three core attributes: speed, quality, and cost. There is tension among the three attributes, and consequently, one can never maximize more than two of them. For instance, if one wants a project of the highest quality in the fastest time, then it can’t be cheap. Alternatively, if one wants a project fast and cheap, then it can’t be of the highest quality.

Now let’s translate the project management triangle into the judicial process. Several core attributes of a case are speed of resolution, depth and thoroughness of the analysis, and accuracy or correctness of the decision. If the project management triangle is correct and applies to the courts, then all three of these can’t be maximized at once. While the court and litigants want speedy, thorough, and accurate justice, not all are possible in a case.

Now turn back to the proxy litigation by patent aggregators. I submit that the optimal level of speed, thoroughness, and accuracy may be different in proxy litigation than run-of-the-mill litigation. The depth and thoroughness of the opinions may be of less importance in proxy litigation because the adjudicated dispute is not the entire dispute between the parties. Accuracy may be more important since the results of the single dispute will be used to determine the value of a larger portfolio.

Thoughts on the analysis?

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Proxy Patent Litigation

In the last decade or so, patent litigation in the United States has undergone enormous changes. Perhaps most profound is the rise in enforcement of patents held by people and entities who don’t make any products or otherwise participate in the marketplace. Some call these patent holders ‘non-practicing entities’ (NPEs), while others use the term ‘patent assertion entities’ (PAEs), and some pejoratively refer to some or all of these patent holders as ‘trolls.’ These outsiders come in many different flavors: individual inventors, universities, failed startups, and holding companies that own a patent or family of patents. 

This post is about a particular type of outsider that is relatively new: the mass patent aggregator. The mass patent aggregator owns or controls a significant number of patents – hundreds or even thousands – which it acquired from different sources, including from companies that manufacture products. These mass aggregators often seek to license their portfolios to large practicing entities for significant amounts of money, sometimes using infringement litigation as the vehicle. Aggregators often focus their portfolios on certain industries such as consumer electronics.

Mass aggregator patent litigation and ordinary patent litigation appear to differ in one important aspect. Mass aggregators sue on a few patents in their portfolio, which serve as proxies for the quality of their entire portfolio. The parties use the court’s views of the litigated patents to determine how to value the full patent portfolio. By litigating only a small subset of their portfolio, the aggregator and potential licensee avoid the expense of litigating all of the patents. But the court adjudicates the dispute completely oblivious to the proxy aspect of the litigation. Instead, the court handles it like every other case – by analyzing the merits of the various claims and defenses.

If the court understood the underlying dispute was litigation-by-proxy, would it (or could it) proceed any differently? I will discuss my thoughts on this question in another blog post. For now, I have a question: does proxy litigation occur in other areas of law?

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The Varying Use of Legal Scholarship by the U.S. Supreme Court across Issues

While patent law is my core area of scholarly interest, I have also studied the use of legal scholarship by the courts. My co-author Lee Petherbridge from Loyola-LA and I have conducted several comprehensive empirical studies using large datasets on the issue. More precisely, we have analyzed how often federal courts cite to law review articles in their decisions. We have empirically analyzed the issue from a variety of angles. We have studied the use of legal scholarship by the U.S. Supreme Court (available here), by the regional U.S. Courts of Appeals (study available here), and by the Federal Circuit (available here). I won’t recount the finding of those studies here. Instead, I will report some new information and ask readers for potential explanations of the data.

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Software Patent Eligibility

This post reflects my initial impressions of an important Federal Circuit development in patent law, which is my primary area of scholarly focus. On Friday, the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled on a controversial and divisive patent law issue, whether software inventions are patent eligible subject matter. Unfortunately, I find the decision in this case, CLS Bank v. Alice Corp., quite unsatisfying.

The court, sitting with 10 judges, issued 7 separate opinions spanning 135 pages. The court only agreed upon a very brief – 55 words – per curiam opinion affirming the district court ruling that the asserted patents were invalid. The per curiam opinion explained that the “method” and “computer readable media” claims were deemed not patent eligible by the Federal Circuit, while the court was equally divided on the status of the “system” claims. (Basically, there are several different ways that a software invention can be claimed in a patent, including as a process/method of performing steps; as software embedded upon a computer readable medium (i.e., a DVD); and as a system (i.e., software running on a machine/computer).) None of the remaining substantive opinions garnered more than 5 votes – thus, none are binding precedent. Although a majority of the Federal Circuit judges found the method and media claims invalid, a majority could not agree upon the reasoning. Below I will briefly provide a few preliminary observations about the opinions.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg headlines Thomas Jefferson Law School Women and Law Conference

Last Friday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at the 13th Annual Women and Law Conference at Thomas Jefferson Law School. A packed house listened as panelists discussed a variety of issues relating to women in the judiciary, and the highlight of the day was an extended and candid Q&A with Justice Ginsburg herself. Read More

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DPAs and Corporate Governance

In this season’s law review submission process, I am circulating an article about deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and corporate governance.    DPAs are controversial tools increasingly-used to settle corporate criminal cases, usually without indictment. Targets admit facts, pay fines and promise governance reforms—such as replacing officers, adding directors and prescribing reporting lines.

Some view DPAs as coerced extractions of overzealous prosecutors, while others say they are mere whitewash that let corporate crooks off the hook. The weight of commentary urges prosecutors to get out of this business, to avoid corporate governance entirely, while some wonder why the intrusions are not deeper and more frequent.

I explain why prosecutors should invest in corporate governance and take a measured approach to reforming it. Ignoring governance can be perilous and embracing it can produce more effective reforms.

My diagnosis indicates a lack of both investment and transparency so I make two prescriptions: prosecutors should profile the corporate governance of businesses they target at the outset and publicly articulate rationales for reforms when settling.

The paper first surveys the landscape of contemporary corporate governance, stressing two normative points. First: one-size-does-not fit all. Corporate governance varies enormously from company to company, depending on such factors as ownership structures, management characteristics and employment policies. Second: failure to appreciate that poses serious risks, always to given companies, and sometimes to the economy at large.

That is the proper lesson to draw from the 2002 case of Arthur Andersen, where an indictment destroyed the auditing firm because it was a partnership owned and managed by its members in the veracity business.

Instead, prosecutors took a broader and cruder lesson: that they should always be averse to indicting any large business. The result of that aversion has been the proliferation of DPAs—which, despite controversy and criticism, is not necessarily a bad effect, so long as these lessons are incorporated into their production.

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Zelinsky on the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Crisis

My colleague Aaron Zelinsky, who is visiting with University of Maryland School of Law before heading off to the Supreme Court to clerk, has written an incisive post at the Huffington Post on the federal judiciary’s failure to stick to the hiring plan, the troubles defection causes, and his recommendation for what we ought to do about it.  The entire post is here.  For a bit of his wisdom:

So what’s to be done?

If judges are serious about creating a new plan to fix this race to the bottom, there’s an easy solution: use the old plan. The old plan worked just fine. It only had one problem; it was voluntary, so it unraveled. The solution is simple: make the plan mandatory.

Remember the story of Odysseus, who wanted to hear the song of the Sirens but was worried that doing so would cause him to sail too close to the rocks and wreck his ship? To get around the problem he had his crew tie him to the mast.

The judicial branch tried this solution with the old hiring plan, but they made a critical mistake: Odysseus didn’t tie himself to the mast. He had his crew do it. That way he couldn’t get the knots undone. Otherwise, tying yourself up is about as useful as putting that piece of chocolate cake in the back of the refrigerator. Sure, it helps for about ten minutes, but then you open the door, move the mayonnaise to the side, and there it is.

Instead of voluntary compliance, the judicial branch should ask someone else to tie them to the mast. In the context of our constitutional system, the term of art for this is one you may remember from middle school civics: the separation of powers.

Congress has the power of the purse. It allocates funds for building courthouses, keeping the lights on, and employing staff. For instance, law clerks are employed under 28 U.S.C. 752 (for district courts) and 28 U.S.C. 712 (for circuit courts). If the judiciary really wants to fix the hiring plan, then judges should request that Congress condition salaries for law clerks upon them being hired in compliance with the judicial hiring plan. In other words, if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t have law clerks.

But wait, isn’t that unconstitutional? Nope. The Constitution prevents Congress from lowering the salaries of federal judges, but says nothing about their staff (anyways, such a law could be written to apply only to those hired in the future, not those already employed). And Congress isn’t infringing on the judicial power in any way – this law does not effect how judges make use of their clerks, just the timing of how they hire them. And it would leave the actual formation of the plan up to the judiciary.

Federal judges could ask Congress to make the hiring plan mandatory via a proposal from a special judicial working group, or even in Chief Justice Roberts’s year end report to Congress. And they should. A new, mandatory plan would be fairer for less-advantaged law students and late-bloomers, more efficient for federal judges, and maybe even better for you.

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The Stanford Law Review Online: Defending DOMA in Court

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by Matthew I. Hall entitled How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot). Professor Hall argues that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group lacks standing to defend DOMA:

In one of the most closely watched litigation matters in recent years, the Supreme Court will soon consider Edith Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court surprised many observers by granting certiorari, not only on the merits of Windsor’s equal protection and due process claims, but also on the question whether the defendants—the United States and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (the BLAG)—have Article III standing to defend DOMA. The United States has agreed with plaintiffs that DOMA is unconstitutional, prompting the BLAG to intervene for the purpose of defending DOMA’s constitutionality. No lower court has yet addressed whether the BLAG has standing, so the Supreme Court will have the first crack at the issue. But it turns out that the answer is straightforward: Under settled precedent, the BLAG lacks authority to represent either the United States or Congress, and having claimed no interest of its own, it therefore lacks Article III standing.

He concludes:

Congress could solve these problems by statute or resolution, but until it does so the BLAG is a mere bystander, with no stake in defending DOMA. This lack of standing may play a decisive role in the Windsor litigation. Both the BLAG and the executive branch defendants appealed the District Court’s judgment to the Second Circuit, and petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari. If the BLAG lacks standing, however, then it had no authority to appeal or to seek Supreme Court review, and the Court’s jurisdiction must turn on whether the United States, which has agreed with the plaintiff that DOMA is unconstitutional, has standing to proceed with the case. Interestingly, the BLAG itself has argued that no such standing exists—a controversial position that is beyond the scope of this short piece. But if the BLAG is correct, then there is no case or controversy before the Court, and the Court will have to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The widespread expectation that Windsor will be a significant decision appears to be well-founded. But it remains to be seen whether its significance will lie in the area of individual rights or in the areas of federal court jurisdiction and the separation of powers.

Read the full article, How Congress Could Defend DOMA in Court (and Why the BLAG Cannot) at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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The Good Life and Gun Control

Like many of you, I’ve been horrified by the events in Newtown, and dismayed by the debate that has followed.  Josh Marshall (at TPM) thinks that “this is quickly veering from the merely stupid to a pretty ugly kind of victim-blaming.”  Naive realism, meet thy kettle!  Contrary to what you’ll see on various liberal outlets, the NRA didn’t cause Adam Lanza to kill innocent children and adults, nor did Alan Gura or the army of academics who helped to build the case for an individual right to gun ownership.  Reading discussions on the web, you might come to believe that we don’t all share the goal of a society where the moral order is preserved, and where our children can be put on the bus to school without a qualm.

But we do.

We just disagree about how to make it happen.

Dan Kahan’s post on the relationship between “the gun debate”, “gun deaths”, and Newtown is thus very timely.  Dan argues that if we really wanted to decrease gun deaths, we should try legalizing drugs.  (I’d argue, following Bill Stuntz, that we also/either would hire many more police while returning much more power to local control).  But decreasing gun deaths overall won’t (probably) change the likelihood of events like these:

“But here’s another thing to note: these very sad incidents “represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence.” Those who are appropriately interested in reducing gun homicides generally and who are (also appropriately) making this tragedy the occasion to discuss how we as a society can and must do more to make our citizens safe, and who are, in the course of making their arguments invoking(appropraitely!) the overall gun homicide rate should be focusing on what we can be done most directly and feasibly to save the most lives.

Repealing drug laws would do more —  much, much, much more — than banning assault rifles (a measure I would agree is quite appropriate); barring carrying of concealed handguns in public  (I’d vote for that in my state, if after hearing from people who felt differently from me, I could give an account of my position that fairly meets their points and doesn’t trade on tacit hostility toward or mere incomprehension of  whatever contribution owning a gun makes to their experience of a meaningful free life); closing the “gun show” loophole; extending waiting periods etc.  Or at least there is evidence for believing that, and we are entitled to make policy on the best understanding we can form of how the world works so long as we are open to new evidence and aren’t otherwise interfering with liberties that we ought, in a liberal society, to respect.”

Dan’s post is trying to productively redirect our public debate, and I wanted to use this platform to bring more attention to his point.  But, I think he’s missing something, and if you follow me after the jump, I’ll tell you what.

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