September 26, 2006

A Couple of Patent Stories, Including An IBM Bombshell [7:36 am]

  • A story of jurisdiction-shopping: So Small a Town, So Many Patent Suits

    What was remarkable about the trial was not the issue being tried or the arguments proffered by each side, but that these big companies — like dozens more from the East and West Coasts — wound up in the Federal District Court here in Marshall, the self-proclaimed Pottery Capital of the World and home to the annual Fire Ant Festival (sponsored by Terminix, the pest-control company).

    More patent lawsuits will be filed here this year than in federal district courts in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington. Only the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, will handle more patent infringement cases.

    On the surface, there is little to recommend Marshall as a locus for global corporations looking to duke it out over who owns the rights to important technology patents. [...]

    [...] What’s behind the rush to file patent lawsuits here? A combination of quick trials and plaintiff-friendly juries, many lawyers say. Patent cases are heard faster in Marshall than in many other courts. And while only a small number of cases make it to trial — roughly 5 percent — patent holders win 78 percent of the time, compared with an average of 59 percent nationwide, according to LegalMetric, a company that tracks patent litigation.

    Those odds are daunting enough to encourage many corporate defendants to settle before setting foot in Marshall. Add to that the fact that jurors here have a history of handing out Texas-sized verdicts to winners. In April, for instance, a Marshall jury returned a $73 million verdict against EchoStar Communications for infringing the patents of TiVo.

  • A move in the “open patent review” movement, and a statement on business method patents: Hoping to Be a Model, I.B.M. Will Put Its Patent Filings Online

    I.B.M., the nation’s largest patent holder, will publish its patent filings on the Web for public review as part of a new policy that the company hopes will be a model for others.

    [...] The policy, being announced today, includes standards like clearly identifying the corporate ownership of patents, to avoid filings that cloak authorship under the name of an individual or dummy company. It also asserts that so-called business methods alone — broad descriptions of ideas, without technical specifics — should not be patentable. [emphasis added!]

    The move by I.B.M. does carry business risks. Patents typically take three or four years after filing to be approved by the patent office. Companies often try to keep patent applications private for as long as possible, to try to hide their technical intentions from rivals.

    “Competitors will know years ahead in some cases what fields we’re working on,” said John Kelly, senior vice president for technology and intellectual property at I.B.M. “We’ve decided we’ll take that risk and seek our competitive advantage elsewhere.”

    [...] I.B.M. used Internet collaboration to develop its new patent policy. More than 50 patent and policy experts from the United States, Europe, Japan and China exchanged views for two months in May and June on a wiki, an online site that can be added to and edited collectively. The resulting document is posted on www.ibm.com/gio/ip.

    Unrelated, really, but worth noting: BM Asks Court to Toss SCO’s Entire Case

  • A representative of Audible US pointed out that there was an article in the Saturday (2006 Sept 16) NYTimes on the CEO’s fight with patent trolls. You can search the Internet for the text (”Tired of Trolls, a Feisty Chief Fights Back” by Joe Nocera) but, since it’s a TimesSelect article, I can’t post a useful link here. If Audible decides to post the text on their WWW site, I’ll be happy to link to it there.

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