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08.06.16

How Low-Quality USPTO Patents Made the US Fertile Ground for Patent Trolling

Posted in America, Apple, Patents, Samsung at 2:55 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

And why EPO policies under Battistelli will emulate the worst aspects of the USPTO

HTC deviceSummary: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) explains that decline in patent quality in the US is responsible for a hostile environment which fosters litigation rather than innovation; BlackBerry the latest example of patent assertion firms (trolls) which would make phones ‘dumber’ (features like a mechanical keyboard removed or never added in the first place)

LAST month we wrote about GAO in relation to the EPO [1, 2], demonstrating that the US patent system has gone out of touch and increasingly disconnected from the raison d’être of patents.

A good but somewhat belated article from TechDirt covers this topic, citing the Government Accountability Office for support:

This shouldn’t be a surprise. All the way back in 2004, in Adam Jaffe’s and Josh Lerner’s excellent book about our dysfunctional patent system, Innovation and Its Discontents, one of the key problems they outlined with the system was the fact that there was strong incentives for patent examiners at the US Patent Office to approve shit patents. That’s because they were rewarded for how “productive” they were in terms of how many patent applications they completed processing. Now, you might think that shouldn’t encourage approvals — except that there’s no such thing as a true “final rejection” from the patent office (they have something called a final rejection, but it’s not — applicants can just make some changes and try again… forever). So rejecting a patent, inevitably, harms your productivity rates as an examiner. Approving a patent gets it off your plate and is considered “done.” Rejecting it means having to spend many more hours on that same patent when the inventor comes back to get another chance.

After Jaffe and Lerner made that criticism clear, it seemed like the Patent Office started to take the issue to heart and they actually started changing some of how examiners were rated. And, for a few years, it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. But then, once David Kappos took over, he noticed that a lot of patent holders were complaining that it took too long to get patents approved. Apparently ignoring all of the evidence that pushing examiners to review patents quickly ends up in disaster, Kappos put back in place an incentive structure to encourage examiners to approve more patents. He kept focusing on the need to get through the backlog and speed up the application process, rather than recognizing what a disaster it would be. Of course, some of us predicted it and were mocked in the comments by patent lawyers who insisted we were crazy to suggest that the USPTO would lower its standards.

Of course, an academic study a few years ago found that was absolutely happening and now, to make the point even clearer, the Government Accountability Office, which tends to do really fantastic work, has written a report that agrees. It blames the Patent Office’s focus on rapidly approving patents for the flood of low quality patents and the resulting patent trolling epidemic…

Noting that last part about a “trolling epidemic” (to the point where 90% of all technology lawsuits are filed by trolls), we wish to highlight the correlation between abstract software patents and software patent trolls. Since half a decade ago we have highlighted the strong correlation between patent trolls and software patents, so had the USPTO stopped granting patents on software, a lot of this “trolling epidemic” would go away almost entirely. It would not be a viable business model for reasons we explained here repeatedly over the years. Given an extraordinary number of patents granted to BlackBerry (far too many to be deemed high quality), this is relevant to the past week’s news. BlackBerry, which is rapidly becoming a troll (or PAE) down in Texas [1, 2], has generated more and more headlines in recent days, e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. “Blackberry is now a troll,” wrote Benjamin Henrion (FFII). “Too bad NTP did not kill them 10 years ago.”

BlackBerry is one among many such companies. Apple, for example, having totally lost the plot to Android in India (where Android is now estimated to have 97% of the market; see daily links for details), is suing endlessly. Is there another Apple-Samsung patent war in the making? As one site notes right now: “Samsung filed a patent for a smartwatch with a detachable strap. Detachable band straps are already there. So, what’s the big deal? Their new smartwatch looks like the Apple’s iWatch. Now, that’s a big deal.

“Samsung is not eyeing another patent war with Apple, hopefully, they aren’t. Because, the last time when they did it, they had to suffer for it. A California court had ordered Samsung to pay 548 million dollars.”

“It would mean that phones must have features and parts removed from them.”Apple has been suing Android OEMs for more than 6 years, starting with HTC. We expect BlackBerry to do the same thing pretty soon. Does that mean more innovation? Quite the contrary. It would mean that phones must have features and parts removed from them.

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