Survey on Willful Infringement

Prof. David C. Berry (Cooley) is researching how In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007)(en banc) has altered the practical landscape of willful patent infringement. One goal of the project is to collect data from persons with recent experience evaluating whether an organization's activities create a risk of patent infringement, and deciding how to respond to that risk. Current or recent in-house counsel interested in participating in the research project are invited to complete a confidential, on-line survey at:

The survey was developed in conjunction with the ABA Section of Intellectual Property Law, Special Committee on Patent Analysis and Opinions of Counsel Post-Seagate. It has approximately 30 questions, and can be completed in less than 15 minutes. The survey link will be open for responses until February 15, 2011.

Patent Attorneys and Agents: Years of Hands-On Technical Experience Before Focusing on Patent Law

Yesterday’s post included a cumulative frequency chart that some readers found confusing. I have replaced that chart with one showing essentially the same material in more reader-friendly format.


These results come from a survey of Patently-O readers conducted August 23–25.  In the survey, 626 responders self-identified as US patent attorneys and 116 self-identified as US patent agents.  Each was then asked to enter their “Years of hands-on technical experience before focusing on patent law (if none, enter 0).”  Responses ranged from 0–40 years.  Fewer than 1% left the field blank. 

[File Attachment: SurveyResults.v1.xlsx (58 KB)]

Preliminary Results on Patent Law Survey.

I recently posted a survey on Patently-O titled “Why Patent Law?”. The introduction to the survey indicated that was “designed primarily for patent law professionals” and focuses on why individuals chose patent law as a career rather than working primarily in their technical areas of expertise as engineers, scientists, or developers.  This post includes some preliminary results on the demographics of the 939 survey responses that I received.  I am working on compiling responses to the lone long-form question outlined above.

The vast majority of responders self-identified as US Patent Attorneys (67%) followed by US Patent Agents (12%). 


The most common asserted area of technical background in my survey was electrical engineering (33%). 


The Clifford-Field-Cavecchi dataset (CFC) indicated a lower proportion both electrical engineering professionals and a Software/IS professionals. CFC reported on “electrical fields” and “computer fields” which should, theoretically, be broader than my “electrical engineering” and “software or information systems.” (See graph at right.) I believe that there are several explanation for my findings.  First, CFC make the assumption that an individual’s technical background is equivalent to their college major.  My survey was more flexible and allowed individuals to indicate their technical background without providing documentation from an accredited institution. Second, the CFC data is more than four-years-old. During the interim, it is likely that EE/Software experts have entered the patent law field at a greater rate than other technical experts. Finally, it may also be true that EE/Software patent professionals read Patently-O and respond to Patently-O surveys as a greater rate than do other technical experts.

Attorney and Agent Technical Experience: According to my survey, US patent agents are likely to have more technical expertise than their patent attorney counterparts.  Namely, patent agents are much more likely to hold a PhD or equivalent (38% of responding patent agents listed a PhD compared with 13% of patent attorneys) and tend have many more years of “hands-on technical experience before focusing on patent law” (patent agents indicated 10.0 years of technical experience on average compared with 4.7 years for patent attorneys; medians of 9 and 3 years respectively).  The final chart below compares patent agent and patent attorney pre-patent-law technical experience.



Survey: Why Patent Law

The following survey is designed primarily for patent law professionals and asks why you became a patent law professional rather than staying within your technical area of expertise and working as an engineer, scientist, developer, etc.?

I will post preliminary results tomorrow evening.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part III of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

In our previous post, we discussed some of the major findings from the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

As we noted at the end of our last post, when asked about the role patents play in directly driving the innovation process, our respondents reported relatively weak effects. As Figure 1 below indicates, executives at biotechnology companies stated that, on average, patents provide slightly less than "moderate" incentives to invent, perform initial R & D, and commercialize products. For software companies, the responses fall to just below "slight" incentives.

Even when respondents are limited to those companies that hold at least one patent or application, the results do not change much. For these patent-holding companies, biotechnology companies report just slightly above moderate incentives and software companies report just above slight incentives for these same innovation-related activities.

Figure 1: The Role of Patents in the Innovation Process

These results are somewhat surprising for biotechnology companies, because anecdotal reports had indicated that biotech companies relied heavily on patenting to protect their investments in R & D. On the other hand, the results do generally accord with anecdotal reports from the software industry.

The authors of the 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey report are not all of one mind about how to interpret the incentive effect findings of our study. Some of us would discount these results in that they reflect the perceptions of executives about how patents work, and might not accord with economic reality. Specifically, while these executives may have understood our questions, they may not have fully comprehended the role patenting plays in the innovation process, which is often subtle. For instance, in an earlier post we noted important secondary effects of patents, such as attracting capital and enabling arm's-length transactions. These effects may contribute enough of a "plus factor" to make certain projects viable, even if executives do not think of patents in those terms. In other words, if patents are effective in garnering investment capital—which is then used to perform R & D—although executives might not view patents as the immediate cause of innovation, patents might still play an important role in the innovation process that is not fully reflected in our study results. Yet, others of us are more willing to give credence to the perception of entrepreneurs who report that patents provide weak to moderate incentives to invest in innovation. Who are we as scholars to say that they are incorrect in their assessment about the importance (or not) of patents?

We acknowledge that our analysis to date of the study results do not allow us to say one way or the other whether the views of the executives accurately reflect the economics of the patent system. Thus, it would be wrong to conclude, as one commentator has, that one of the key findings of our study is that patents "play essentially no role in fostering innovation among startup companies . . . outside biotech and other limited areas." In the same fashion, it may also be wrong to conclude that the executives taking the survey were not fully aware of the economics of patents, and the reality is that patents play a major role in promoting innovation. Rather, based on our study results, one can draw competing inferences that explain the results. As such, we come to no conclusions in this article regarding the actual role patents play in fostering startup innovation (or not).

To be sure, relying on other evidence, several of us have expressed views on the topic elsewhere. Unfortunately, even combining this additional evidence with our study data does not definitively answer the question. The data, however, present an interesting paradox: If executives believe that patents provide relatively weak incentives to innovate, why are so many startup firms seeking them? Our first post indicated that securing financing was a reason why many firms reported seeking patents.

Reinforcing that finding is another significant result. Our survey asked entrepreneurs to report their views on the importance of patents to potential funders, such as venture capitalists (VCs), angel investors, other firms, commercial banks, and friends and family. Our respondents indicate that many potential investors with whom they negotiated said that patents were important to their investment decisions. Of companies negotiating with VC firms, 67% report that these firms indicated that patents were an important factor in their investment decisions.

Interestingly, this result was not just driven by biotech and medical device firms. Broken down by industry, the figures were 60% for software companies, 73% for biotech, and 85% for medical devices. Respondents also report that substantial percentages of other types of investors, such as angels, investment banks, and other companies found patents important to their investment decisions.

In our view, this last finding may help to explain why many high tech startups seek patents, even though their executives report that patents provide relatively weak incentives to innovate. Raising money, rather than invention itself, may be the key.

Of course, this conclusion begs the question of why patents are important in the startup financing process in the first instance. Like the innovation incentives issue, the authors are not in full accord on the explanations here. One possible interpretation is that startup executives are generally unaware of the link between patents and success in the innovative process, which results in financial markets selecting those companies that patent more heavily. Another interpretation is that patents serve important functions not related to the innovation process, such as helping to prevent infringement lawsuits, providing leverage in cross-licensing negotiations, and acting as "signals" of firm competency, which drive investment. A third interpretation may be that investors want startups to patent so there will be some marketable assets if the companies fail in the market. And these interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, as we indicated earlier, our analysis cannot resolve this dilemma. We hope that further research by us and others ultimately will make progress in doing so. In the meantime, we believe our study offers one of the most important resources for understanding the effects and use of patents by entrepreneurs.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part II of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

In our previous post, we discussed three major findings from the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. As we noted in that post, the survey collected responses from over 1,300 companies less than ten years old (hereinafter, "startups") in the biotechnology, medical device, software, and hardware/IT sectors. In this post, we discuss three additional major findings. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

Our fourth major result is that our respondents—particularly software companies—find the high costs of patenting and enforcing their patents deter them from filing for patents on their innovations (see Fig. 1 below). Given the reported importance of patents to startups not only in the financing process, but also for strategic reasons—especially for increasing bargaining power—these cost barriers are worrisome.

Another of our survey questions revealed that the average out-of-pocket cost for a respondent firm to acquire its most recent patent was over $38,000. This figure is significantly higher than the averages for patent prosecution reported in the literature, which vary from a low of $10,000 to a high of $30,000.

Our respondents also offer a variety of other reasons for not patenting, including the ease of competitors designing around a potential patent and the belief that the innovation was not patentable (both of which are more salient for software companies) as well as the reluctance to disclose information in a patent and a preferred reliance on trade secrecy (which are more salient for biotechnology companies).

Figure 1. "For your last innovation you did not patent, which if any of the following influenced your company's decision?"

A fifth major finding is that although many respondents report licensing in patents from others, most of them did so to acquire technology, with fewer seeking licenses to avoid a lawsuit. So, while we find that 15% of technology companies licensed in at least one patent, there are industry differences.

Specifically, among biotechnology companies, while 37% had licensed in at least one patent, for their last license, 81% did so to acquire technology, and only 30% to (sometimes also) avoid a lawsuit. Among software firms, only 8% report taking at least one patent license, with 79% taking such a license to (at least in part) gain information or know-how. In each sector, less than 10% of companies taking licenses report licensing only to avoid a law suit.

When we restrict our focus to only venture-backed companies, inbound licensing is much more prevalent, with 37% of all companies licensing in a patent. However, there is once more wide variation from one industry to another. While 89% of venture-backed biotechnology companies licensed in at least one patent, only 12% of similarly-funded software companies had reported as much. Also, while only 3% of these biotech companies that had licensed at least one patent reported licensing in their last patent only to avoid a lawsuit, 22% of such software companies reported as much.

Last, we asked how much of a role patents play in the steps of the innovation process, from invention to R & D to the commercialization of products and processes. Somewhat surprisingly, the responses on the whole are rather tepid. For instance, biotechnology companies report that patents provide closer to a "moderate" than a "strong" incentive to engage in the innovation process. Among software companies, the results are even more striking, with them reporting that patents provide less than a "slight" incentive. These findings raise questions about the importance of patents to innovation for entrepreneurs and startups. Indeed, the results have spurred some vigorous debate in the blogosphere of late, and we devote our entire next post on Patently-O to discussing them in detail.

Patenting by Entrepreneurs: The Berkeley Patent Survey (Part I of III)

Guest Post by Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

Why do entrepreneurs and startup companies file for patents? Why not? How often do startups acquire patents from others? How important are patents in fostering innovation at startups? In helping them raise financing? In providing leverage in cross-licensing negotiations? Are entrepreneurs and startups subject to patent thickets?

These and many related questions were the subject of the Berkeley Patent Survey—the most comprehensive survey to date in the United States, probably worldwide, on how patents are used by and affect entrepreneurs, startups, and early-stage high technology companies. Funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation—and conducted by us, along with Robert Barr (Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Tech and former VP of IP at Cisco) and Stuart Graham (then a professor at Georgia Tech's College of Management, and currently Chief Economist of the USPTO)—the survey collected responses from over 1,300 companies less than ten years old (hereinafter, "startups") in the biotechnology, medical device, software, and hardware/IT sectors.

In this first post of three, we briefly review three major findings from our initial analysis of the survey about the frequency of patenting among high-tech startups, why startups seek patents, and how they rate patents and other strategies for attaining competitive advantage. In the next post, we'll discuss some reasons startups give for not seeking patents and why they sometimes license-in patents from other companies. In the last post, we'll specifically address startup perceptions about the incentives that patents provide for engaging in innovation as well as the perceived importance of patents in securing outside investments. The investment incentive role of patents has been not only a subject of enduring interest in the patent field generally, but also an important topic of interest of late at the Department of Commerce and PTO. (For those interested in more information, a detailed discussion of the survey results is available here; a focused analysis on the drivers of startup patenting, here; and some background on the genesis of the survey, here.)

First, startups hold many more patents and applications than previously believed. Instead of asking companies how many patents and applications they actually hold—like we did—earlier studies solely used the PTO databases to determine portfolio size. Unfortunately, these databases are unreliable, because the assignee records—particularly for patents acquired from founders and third parties—are incomplete. Our more complete data shows that about 40% of our respondents hold patents or applications, with the figure rising to about 80% for startups funded by venture capital firms.

As expected, this figure varies widely by industry—for example, 97% of venture-backed biotechnology companies hold patents or applications, while only 67% of venture-backed software startups do. And among the general population of software startups responding, the rate was only about 25%. In terms of raw numbers, among biotechnology companies, those with patents and applications have about 13 on hand, with the number rising to about 20 for medical device companies, and falling to about 7 for software companies. In sum, many startups are filing for patents and hold greater numbers than previously believed, though most software companies have never filed for patents.

Second, startups report that they primarily file for patents to prevent against copying of their innovative products and services (see Fig. 1 below). This holds true across all industries and by a variety of other company characteristics, such as age and revenues.

Respondents also note that filing for patents to improve their chances of securing investment and generating a liquidity event (such as an IPO or being acquired) are between moderately and very important reasons to file. In addition, the respondents state that a moderately important reason to file patents is for strategic reasons, such as defending against and preventing patent lawsuits as well as increasing negotiating leverage.

Figure 1: Reasons to File for Patents

Our third major finding concerns startup executives' perceptions of the effectiveness of patents and other methods of providing competitive advantage. Interestingly, responses vary widely (see Fig. 2 below). Biotechnology companies rate patents as the most effective means of capturing competitive advantage, more effective than first-mover advantage (though the differences are not statistically significant), trade secrecy, reverse engineering, copyright, and other means. Software companies, on the other hand, rank patenting dead last in providing competitive advantage.

Figure 2: Measures of Capturing "Competitive Advantage" from Inventions

In sum, the 2008 Berkeley Patent Survey has found that startups are patenting more than previous studies have suggested; that patents are being sought for a variety of reasons, the most prominent of which is to prevent copying of the innovation; and that there are considerable differences among startups in the perceived significance of patents for attaining competitive advantage, with biotech companies rating them as the most important strategy and software companies rating them least important.

Our next post will delve into reasons high tech entrepreneurs gave for not seeking patents for recent innovations and for licensing of patents from other companies.

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Guest Post: Why Bilski Benefits Startup Companies


I asked Professor Ted Sichelman to provide his thoughts on how the Bilski decision impacts start-up companies and their incentive to innovate. DC

By Ted Sichelman, University of San Diego School of Law

Before practicing law and becoming a professor, I founded and ran a small software company that sells speech recognition software to taxicab companies. After my company designed its technology, we filed for patents. Later on, when raising financing from angel and venture capital investors, they reviewed our pending applications carefully and considered them a way to stop potential competition. Indeed, in a recent survey of startup firms, the Berkeley Patent Survey—which I conducted with Robert Merges and Pamela Samuelson of UC Berkeley School of Law and Stuart Graham (now Chief Economist at the PTO)—startup executives reported that nearly 70% of venture capital firms and 50% of angel investors said that patents were important to their investment decisions. Relatively broad patentable subject matter assists startups in raising needed funds. As I have argued elsewhere, another reason for broad subject matter is that startups engage in substantial amounts of post-invention—but pre-commercialization—innovation that is not always technological in nature. For instance, many startups generate marketing, financial, legal, and other types of non-technological innovations during the costly commercialization process. Providing IP protection for these innovations not only can produce more of them, but also can help drive technology commercialization.

Assuming the Federal Circuit and the PTO do not go astray in implementing Bilski—which admittedly leaves many doors open to do so—the opinion will allow startups to continue to use patents to garner financing and will, hopefully, set an appropriate balance on the patentability of non-technological inventions. In particular, as I urged in an amicus brief with Professors Mark Lemley, Michael Risch, and Polk Wagner—Bilski rightly adheres to the 150-year old tradition that as long as the claimed invention is a machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or a process, only natural phenomena, laws of nature, and abstract ideas should be excluded from eligible subject matter.

One might contend that by allowing business methods—as well as software and other “intangible” innovations—to be patented, startup firms will encounter a greater “thicket” of patents, making it more difficult for them to enter particular markets. For example, an amicus brief in Bilski filed on behalf of “entrepreneurial and consumer advocates” argued that “if the PTO is permitted to grant broad business and service process patents, small start-up businesses would face an entirely new regime of business regulation – essentially requiring businesses to request private permits to operate from their competitors who have patents, independent of whatever technology the new business uses to compete.” Justice Stevens’ echoed this view by writing in his concurrence that business methods patents “can take a particular toll on small and upstart businesses.”

In actuality, under the Federal Circuit’s previous State Street Bank opinion, in operation for a decade prior to Bilski, the PTO regularly granted “broad business and service process patents” and there is little evidence that these patent-holders required startups to license them in any significant numbers. The Berkeley Patent Survey found that only 8% of the population of respondent software companies and 12% of venture-backed software companies had licensed-in even one patent. In sum total, a relatively low percentage, 0.6% and 3%, respectively, reported licensing a patent solely to avoid a lawsuit. And while Bilski ultimately holds that business methods are not per se unpatentable, the practical effect of the outcome will be to place unapplied business methods into the precluded “abstract idea” category. If implemented properly, such an approach will ensure that startups—and, indeed, larger and more established companies—are not unnecessarily subject to overly broad patents while maintaining robust incentives to innovate.

Ted Sichelman is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, where he teaches patent law and other intellectual property courses.