The patent blogs are abuzz with detailed analysis of cloture votes and Senate procedure. I will not repeat what my colleagues have already ably done — Patently-O and Patent Docs are two examples. The critical take-away is that the Senate has limited debate on the House version of the America Invents Act, H.R. 1249, (the “AIA”) to thirty hours, and prevented further amendment of the bill. There are currently only a few amendments, and none are expected to make it into the bill. The Senate plans to vote the AIA up or down this afternoon at 4:00pm ET according to Patently-O, and President Obama appears poised to sign the AIA upon passage.
Although it is fun to watch our government in process, the important issue is not the particulars of cloture. What matters is how the bill will impact retailers and their supply chains if it is signed into law. So, here are four key provisions of the America Invents Act for retailers:
- Smaller Patent Troll Suits: The most immediate impact on most retailers will be Section 19, limiting joinder in a single suit of unrelated parties. This is not the more extreme restrictions on venue or joinder that many had hoped for. But it will have some positive impact on patent troll litigation. For suits filed on or after the date of enactment, plaintiffs will only be able to join related parties in a single suit — for example, multiple manufacturers, distributors or resellers of an identical product. And while cases against unrelated parties could still be joined for discovery, they will not be able to be joined for trial. At first glance, this is not much of a barrier to entry for patent trolls. Very few defendants get to trial, and cases may still be consolidated for discovery purposes at the court’s discretion. Where a troll today could pay one $300 filing fee and sue 100 unrelated defendants, after enactment that same troll would have to file 100 suits and pay $30,000 in filing fees. $30,000, however, is dwarfed by the settlement demands in many cases. The hassle of filing the extra suits and the related filing fees, however, may be enough to prevent suits against some of the much smaller entities that almost always end up in these suits. And the requirement of separate suits will allow defendants a much greater ability to seek transfer to an appropriate venue. So, while this is not the sea change that many sought, it is a real benefit to retailers who are tired of being sued in Texas and want a better shot at transferring cases. This Section only applies to cases filed after enactment, not pending cases. So, existing cases will not be impacted.
- Post-Grant Review: The AIA establishes a brief window for post-grant and inter partes review in Section 6. Third parties may challenge the validity of any claim of a patent for nine months after a patent is granted or issuance of a reissued patent. But you cannot seek post-grant review after filing a suit involving the patent. And when post-grant review ends in a final Board decision, you give up the right to use the arguments used in post-grant review or arguments that could reasonably have been used, in a later ITC proceeding or district court litigation.
- False Marking Restrictions: Private citizens that file false marking claims will be required to prove competitive injury and their damages will be limited to the injury. Additionally, Section 16(b) excludes marking with an expired patent from the false marking statute. Furthermore, Section 16 applies to all cases pending when the AIA is enacted, as well as cases filed thereafter. Section 16 will clear out many of the existing false marking cases, but leaves considerable room for competitor false marking cases.
- First to Invent: One of the most publicized changes to the U.S. patent laws is the move to a first-to-file patent system, the system used by most of the rest of the world. The first-to-file system incentivizes filing patents as quickly as possible to avoid an earlier filing by a competitor. Section 3 softens the first-to-file system providing for a proceeding between patent owners if the junior patent holder can show that the senior patent holder’s invention was derived from the junior patent holder’s invention. These “derivation proceedings” will replace the current, seldom-used interferences.
Of course, there is much more to the AIA, but these are the key changes for retailers. If there are other provisions you view as on par with these four, I would love to hear about them. Future posts will look at some of the other provisions of the AIA, but those will wait until the Senate votes this afternoon or later this month.