My Recent Article on the Need for Speed in Patenting

I don’t like writing long law review articles any more, but I was persuaded to by the kids at Vanderbilt, and then they made me make it even longer by forcing me to explain things that we all know: patents ain’t what they used to be.

And, in doing it, I learned a lot.  The article — here — with the brilliant title of Will Patenting Make As Much Sense in the New Regime of Weakened Patent Rights and Shorter Product Life Cycles, and featuring some 294 footnotes — describes those changes (by the Supreme Court, Congress, and even the states), the changes in technological speed (and 3D printing) and what that means for the utility of getting a patent, and then talks about ways to speed prosecution and/or obtain damages before issuance. The abstract eloquently states:

After its founding in 1982, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit strengthened patent protection. During that time, businesses—which acquire 90 percent of all patents—increasingly applied for and enforced patents. Clearly, the benefit of having a patent outweighed the cost of doing so.

This Article shows that a central benefit of applying for a patent is that it permits its owner to exclude others from making the patented invention. A patent owner can use the coercive power of a patent to exclude others from making the invention, or to permit others to make the patented invention, but only if they pay money to do so. Two forces have reduced the power of that benefit.

First, patent rights have been weakened through changes in the law. The US Supreme Court has, almost without exception, reversed decisions of the Federal Circuit and adopted an approach that is less favorable to patent owners. Compared to today, in the year 2000, more inventions were eligible for patenting, more inventions were not obvious, more claims were definite, “equivalents” more likely infringed, infringement included more overseas conduct, patent rights were less easily exhausted, patentees could subject defendants to suits in districts more favorable to them, a losing patentee would almost never pay attorneys’ fees, and an injunction was the general rule that benefited a successful patent infringement plaintiff. More recently, Congress created administrative proceedings in the US Patent and Trademark Office that made it easier to challenge existing patents. In litigation, because of the statutory presumption of validity, patent claims are construed narrowly and, when possible, to avoid invalidity, and invalidity must be shown by clear and convincing evidence. In these new proceedings, the presumption does not apply, patent claims are construed more broadly, and only preponderant evidence is required to challenge a claim. Further, if a patent owner sues in court, courts will often stay the litigation in favor of allowing the Patent Office proceeding to finish. This effectively eliminates the presumption of validity. Other changes including heightened pleading requirements and state statutes also reduce the coercive benefit that patents confer.

After examining the available data as to whether these legal changes have already significantly altered the incentive to patent, the Article turns to the second force that reduces the benefit of the coercive power of patents: the fact that a greater number of products have shorter life cycles. Because patents take twenty-four months to issue, and the coercive power of a patent can only be utilized once it issues, the pace of change means that fewer patents will exist in time for their coercive power to be meaningfully applied. Further, that rapid pace of innovation has already created 3D printing, a technology that permits rapid and dispersed copying of new products, which further reduces the coercive benefit of patent rights.

This Article concludes by providing practical advice to patent practitioners as to how to manage the impact of these two forces. These include using established procedures to speed up prosecution, using claim drafting techniques that may help address 3D printing, and considering alternatives such as trade secret protection in lieu of patenting.


About David

Professor of Law, Mercer University School of Law. Formerly Of Counsel, Taylor English Duma, LLP and in 2012-13, judicial clerk to Chief Judge Rader.

2 thoughts on “My Recent Article on the Need for Speed in Patenting

  1. 2

    I was hoping for a more in-depth treatment of the 3D printing angle, but page 505 has but three short paragraphs.

    I did enjoy the Magritte example on page 510, but that section too, left me wanting more.

    I am not sure that the “fix” on 513 fits within patent law (“… the Patent Act should be amended to define the making, using, or selling of a CAD file capable of printing an infringing product as being an act of infringement“.

    DRM has its OWN issues (as would be evident in the Copyright realm in that at least many instances of DRM that entail locking out and preventing ANY copying may be TOO broad and not in accord with what rights are present from copyright. Fair Use is not “copyright transgression that has been allowed, but instead is not a transgression in the first instance).

  2. 1

    David –

    I have downloaded your article and look forward to reading it over the weekend. Thank you for writing on the topic of the weakened patent system. It is a topic that is critically important to patent attorneys and to the country as a whole.

Comments are closed.