For Whom the Bell Trolls

Patent law once was considered a sleepier realm of the law, where only engineers and the like dared tread.  But the proliferation of technology, a series of record-setting patent infringement verdicts, and an increased corporate focus on the value of intellectual property have combined to make patent law more mainstream than ever. Also contributing to patent law’s high profile are a number of recent lawsuits filed by so-called “patent trolls” against mom-and-pop businesses for alleged patent infringement violations tied to the use of a particular copy machine or phone system.

These lawsuits, which aim to extract settlements from small companies that don’t have the resources to mount a full-scale patent defense, have resulted in critical comments from President Obama himself, news coverage from the major television networks and the country’s largest newspapers, and general outrage among the defendants and the public alike. Now, both houses of Congress are proposing changes to patent law to combat the trolls, but not everyone believes such a fix is needed.

One well-placed dissenter is the Hon. Randall Rader, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Judge Rader recently told a roomful of patent attorneys during the Eastern District Bench Bar Conference in Plano that Congress essentially needs to cool its jets and let the justice system do its job.

"Because I have confidence in the ability of the judiciary to address these issues in a more flexible and thus just manner, I consequently encourage the legislative branch to proceed with great caution in attempting to solve specific and evolving problems with sweeping definitions,” Judge Rader told the group.

The Chief Judge said he knows exactly how the judiciary can help resolve the patent troll issue, including dismissing patent cases that clearly have no merit and relying on existing provisions in patent law that gives judges the ability to shift litigation costs to those who file baseless claims.

Judge Rader is right. Our civil justice system grants federal judges many powers that allow them to make sure the system works as it is intended, and those judges can and should embrace this responsibility without the intervention of Congress. Sometimes the answer to a perceived legal problem isn’t to rewrite the law, but rather to permit the courts to do the job they are there to do in the first place.

Posted: 12/2/2013 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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