The most contentious portion of the Patent Reform Act of 2009 is the damages provision. The current damages statute gives little guidance to a court. Damages must be “adequate to compensate for the infringement but in no event less than a reasonable royalty for the use made of the invention by the infringer.” 35 U.S.C. §284. The Court may “increase the damages up to three times the amount found or assessed.” Id. The courts have given some flesh to the rough skeleton created by these statutes. One construct is the hypothetical negotiation – asking the counterfactual question of what licensing scheme would these dueling foes have agreed to if they had actually come to a licensing agreement. The Georgia Pacific factors guide the process of deternining a reasonable royalty. In some cases, courts allow a patentee to recover lost profits.
As it turns out, the damages actually awarded in patent cases are generally thought to be much higher than negotiated license agreements. Part of the difference stems from the reality that patent damages are awarded only on patents that are known to be valid, infringed, and enforceable, and after the risk and expense of litigation have already been taken. In ordinary license negotiations, these risks lower the potential royalty rate and – in contrast – should increased the level of compensation in post-trial damages. There is some evidence that juries simply tend toward large damage awards.
Stacking Problem: In some technology areas – such as electronics – this creates a potential problem known as royalty stacking. Most electronics products are covered by multiple patents – often dozens of patents. CDMA2000 communication standard, for instance, reportedly invringes at least 924 patents. [LINK] When each patentee is awarded a 5% royalty, it does not take long before the entire revenue is taken just to pay for intellectual property rights. If everyone has blocking rights then no business can get done, and we see the tragedy of the anti-commons. Of course, stacking is only a problem in theory. CDMA2000 is a standard actually used around the world. Producers are making (some) money. Multiple patents covering products have causes prices to be raised, but it is not clear than any market has been destroyed or even that the royalty payments outway the benefit of the innovation.
Uncertainty Problem: Jury verdicts are quite unpredictable, and because the royalty rules are so loose, damages appeals are rarely successful.
The new legislation appears to take on these problems in a way to (1) reduce the average damage award; (2) make damage awards more rational and predictable; and (3) make damages judgment more subject to appellate review.
The practical approach of the legislation is to create a “standard for calculating reasonable royalty” which require a determination of the “specific contribution over the prior art” to determine damages. Some courts already follow the rules set out in the proposed legislation. Thus, legislation advocates may refer to the damages reforms as simply a clarification that limits the actions of rogue courts.
The proposed text reads as follows:
35 USC 284(c)(1) IN GENERAL.-The court shall determine, based on the facts of the case and after adducing any further evidence the court deems necessary, which of the following methods shall be used by the court or the jury in calculating a reasonable royalty pursuant to subsection (a). The court shall also identify the factors that are relevant to the determination of a reasonable royalty, and the court or jury, as the case may be, shall consider only those factors in making such determination.
”(A) ENTIRE MARKET VALUE.-Upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art is the predominant basis for market demand for an infringing product or process, damages may be based upon the entire market value of that infringing product or process.
”(B) ESTABLISHED ROYALTY BASED ON MARKETPLACE LICENSING.-Upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the claimed invention has been the subject of a nonexclusive license for the use made of the invention by the infringer, to a number of persons sufficient to indicate a general marketplace recognition of the reasonableness of the licensing terms, if the license was secured prior to the filing of the case before the court, and the court determines that the infringer’s use is of substantially the same scope, volume, and benefit of the rights granted under such license, damages may be determined on the basis of the terms of such license. Upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the claimed invention has sufficiently similar noninfringing substitutes in the relevant market, which have themselves been the subject of such nonexclusive licenses, and the court de termines that the infringer’s use is of substan tially the same scope, volume, and benefit of the rights granted under such licenses, damages may be determined on the basis of the terms of such licenses. ”
(C) VALUATION CALCULATION.-Upon a determination by the court that the showings required under subparagraphs (A) and (B) have not been made, the court shall conduct an analysis to ensure that a reasonable royalty is applied only to the portion of the economic value of the infringing product or process properly at tributable to the claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art. In the case of a combination invention whose elements are present individually in the prior art, the contribution over the prior art may include the value of the additional function resulting from the combination, as well as the enhanced value, if any, of some or all of the prior art elements as part of the combination, if the patentee demonstrates that value.
”(2) ADDITIONAL FACTORS.-Where the court determines it to be appropriate in determining a reasonable royalty under paragraph (1), the court may also consider, or direct the jury to consider, any other relevant factors under applicable law.
- I’ll use this opportunity to plug a new book by Richard Cauley: Winning the Patent Damages Case (Oxford 2009). Great book, the only problem is the $185 price tag.
- The Bills have received numbers: H.R. 1260 is sponsored by Rep. Conyers (MI) and co-sponsored by Reps. Berman (CA), Goodlatte (VA), Jackson-Lee (TX), and Smith (TX). S. 515 is sponsored by Sen. Leahy and co-sponsored by Sens. Crapo (ID), Gillibrand (NY), Hatch (UT), Risch (ID), Schumer (NY), and Whitehouse (RI). Both Bills have been referred to their respective Judiciary Committee which are headed by the Bill sponsors.
- Dennis Crouch, Patent Reform Act of 2009, Patently-O (March 3, 2008).
- William Rooklidge, “Reform” of Patent Damages.
- Dennis Crouch, Patent Reform 2007: Apportionment of Damages, Patently-O (May 25, 2007).
- Amy Landers, 2007 Patent Reform: Proposed Amendments on Damages, Patently-O (April 29, 2007).