Guest Post by Richard Cauley. Cauley is the author of the recent Oxford Press book titled Winning the Patent Damages Case: A Litigator’s Guide to Economic Models and Other Damage Strategies. I asked him to provide some thoughts on the damages proposals in the Patent Reform Act of 2009.
The damages provisions of the Patent Reform Act of 2009 are not new, nor, in an economic sense, are they particularly controversial. Although their introduction in this legislation may create a political firestorm among those who wish to artificially maximize the economic leverage of patentholders both in court and across the bargaining table, the solutions proposed in the latest attempt at patent reform merely reflect – and attempt to measure – the true economic worth of a patent and the reasonable return to which an inventor is entitled.
What these damages provisions (all of which were contained in the various versions of the failed Patent Reform Act of 2007) attempt to accomplish is to force the court to limit the patentholder’s recovery to the real economic worth of an invention – for example, to a company who might want to license that invention to use in another product or to a consumer who might purchase a product because of that very invention.
Thus, the section limiting the application of the entire market value rule to situations in which the actual invention – the advance over the prior art – forms the basis of consumer demand compensates the inventor only to the extent his invention produces something that people actually want to buy.
This section also ensures that patents on relatively minor components are not given a value in excess of their real economic worth. Where the patent does not cover something critically important to the consumer, the provision limits the patentholder’s recovery to the value of that component to the customer – and precludes a recovery based on the entire product, which may include many other patented components.
Likewise, the section requiring the court to determine whether there is already a “market price” for licensing the patent – in the form of pre-existing licenses for similar patent rights – simply measures how much a prospective licensee would be willing to pay on the open market for the right to use the patent. Of course, this is what the reasonable royalty remedy is supposed to measure.
The purpose of these provisions is obvious. First, they will limit the ability of patentholders, primarily patent trolls, to recover damages in patent litigation far in excess of the actual economic value of those patents. More importantly, however, they will reduce the threat of such inflated damages awards – a threat such plaintiffs use as leverage in licensing campaigns and settlement negotiations to secure recoveries far exceeding the worth these patents really have to the prospective licensees.
The problem with these proposed statutes, then is not their objective – to give patents the value they actually deserve – but the implementation. As written, these provisions are a judicial nightmare. They require the court to conduct a kind of “damages Markman” in which the court must decide, before giving the case to the jury, the economic value of the patent’s “specific contribution over the prior art,” the “basis” for the “market demand” for an infringing process, the “relevant market” for a claimed invention and whether that market has “similar noninfringing substitutes” for the claimed invention. Apparently, the court is also supposed to make the economic decision of which Georgia Pacific factors the jury is allowed to consider.
The delay which will be caused in an ongoing trial will inevitably be substantial and the opportunities for reversible error in this process will be legion. Although the intent of the drafters of these provisions was certainly praiseworthy– to codify limits on jury’s overvaluing patents in awarding damages – the byzantine rules they set up to implement these objective shows that they certainly have never tried a patent case. Indeed, if the courts would simply follow the judicially- established guidelines already in place, this complex set of regulations would not be necessary.
Hopefully, calmer heads will prevail before these rules are actually imposed on the patent litigation bar and on the courts. There are better and more effective ways of reaching these objectives.
Indeed, it is not surprising that, in another section of the bill – limiting venue for patent cases to districts in which the defendant has a facility – there appears to be no appropriate venue for a patent case against an infringing foreign defendant with no facilities in the United States. Thus, a plaintiff might have jurisdiction over an infringer, but nowhere to sue the company – all dressed up and no place to go.