In the second of this two part series, we dig a bit deeper on the FTC’s recently proposed study on patent assertion entity (PAE) activity. In Part 1, we covered some background on PAEs and why they are singled out separately from other types of patent holders. Here in part 2, we discuss potential antitrust concerns with PAE activity, what information the FTC is seeking from PAEs and others, and — importantly — what the study means for you.
Potential antitrust issues
To place into context the entire concern with PAEs, as well as to better understand why the Federal Trade Commission is seeking the type of information it is requesting, we delineate briefly the potential antitrust concerns with PAE activity. It must be understood that a valid patent holder unquestionably has the right to exercise his/her patent, or to sit back and sue for infringement should another entity utilize the patent without permission. The mere assertion or enforcement of a PAE patent cannot, without more, constitute an antitrust violation. Nevertheless, a number of different antitrust concerns are implicated with PAE activity, the most prominent of which are presented below.
1. Acquisition and licensing of patents
A patent is an asset and, like any other asset, the more one acquires within a given market, the greater the concern that the acquirer will eventually garner market power and the ability to price its products/services above competitive levels. Or, in the patent context, license the patents above competitive levels. Though not …
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Almost half of all infringement actions brought these days are brought by patentholders that do not practice the invention, but rather by holders who seek to capitalize on the value of the patent through either licensing fees or via damage awards in infringement actions. While simply asserting patent rights cannot be an antitrust violation, the manner in which these patent holders — referred to Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs) or sometimes, pejoratively, as “patent trolls” — amass their portfolios and assert their patents can raise antitrust concerns. Given the enormous toll that patent litigation takes on our innovation economy, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed a study “to understand how PAE behavior compares with patent assertion activity by other patent owners.” This post provides background on the issue and why PAEs are singled out separately from other types of patent holders. A subsequent post will discuss potential antitrust concerns with PAE activity, what information the FTC is seeking from PAEs and others, and what the study means for you.
For years, patent law and antitrust law have butted heads because patent law, which grants the patentee the right to exclude, is the antithesis of antitrust law, which seeks to increase output and maximize consumer welfare. Although the Sherman Act, the federal government’s basic antitrust law, has been hailed as the “magna carta of free enterprise,” patent law is rooted in the Constitution and accordingly has emerged victorious when the two have come into conflict. Over the past decade, …
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The recent Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Leo Pharmaceutical Products, Ltd. v. Rea (Appeal No. 2012-1530, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 16610, decided Aug. 12, 2013) provides patent applicants and owners with some valuable ammunition in rebutting “obvious to try” based obviousness assertions against patent claims under 35 U.S.C. §103, both during patent prosecution and patent invalidity proceedings.
In Leo, an appeal from an inter partes reexamination proceeding at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the court reversed the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences’ holding of obviousness of a pharmaceutical composition on the basis that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not have been motivated to try, let alone make, the claimed invention (*14).
The court found that a claimed storage stable pharmaceutical composition comprising (1) at least one vitamin D analogue, (2) at least one corticosteroid, and (3) at least one solvent selected from a specified group, was “not simply a combination of elements found in the prior art” (*11) (three prior art references relied upon by the Board in finding the compositions obvious), but, rather, the inventors recognized and solved a problem with the storage stability of certain formulations — a problem that the prior art did not recognize and a problem that was not solved for more than a decade:…
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