Patent trolls watch out – Apple and Google join forces to make you think twice

Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) are today heading a group of 15 companies which have formed a rather unlikely alliance to call on the United States Supreme Court for a strong shift in litigation rules. The highly litigious companies, which frequently level charges of patent infringement against each other on a scale most “patent trolls” cannot match, want the Supreme Court justices to smooth the way for companies to more readily recover legal expenses from patent holders whose claims fail to be legally upheld against a tech company.

This measure would have an enhanced punitive effect against non-practicing entities (NPEs), or “patent trolls” among those less charitable about their motives and methods. Currently, many failed suits leave the targeted company burdened with the legal costs of their defense, which can run into the millions of dollars. Apple and Google hope to create a stiffer downside to frivolous legal actions by making losers far more likely to foot winners’ legal bills than is currently the case.

Apple and GoogleAccording to Bloomberg Technology, Apple and Google have been sued close to 200 times apiece in the past half-decade. The trend clearly continues today with such legal actions as the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation lawsuit against Apple’s use of the A7 processor and other notable early 2014 cases.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report cites three principle factors as being at the root of the early 21st century’s rapid multiplication of patent-related lawsuits and rise of companies whose sole function is to find technology firms to sue. The three main causes, according to the GAO, are the granting of vague patents that are too easy to adapt to the objective of suing another entity, the massive size of damage awards, and the growing awareness that patents are a highly valuable asset (not least because of the potential legal leverage they give over only slightly related products).

Seen in this light, the proposed changes by Apple Inc. (AAPL) and its allies are a counterbalancing factor meant to make patent lawsuits less of a juicy business proposition, and instead a tool used sparingly to defend actual intellectual property violations. A report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers seems to indicate that the depictions of runaway “patent trolling” are not overblown. This document indicates that many suits are directed at several thousand companies simultaneously, and that 100,000 lawsuits are threatened annually by firms specializing in patent infringement claims.

At the core of the proposed change is a call for the Supreme Court to declare that a trial judge’s awards of legal expenses to defendants takes precedence over Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decisions on the matter. Currently, many cases end with the trial judge assessing legal fees against the filer of a frivolous patent lawsuit, followed by a reversal of the decision by the Federal Circuit. Should Apple Inc. and the other firms win over the Supreme Court to their point of view, this could potentially mark a sea change in the handling of patent cases and a strong check on the future operations of “patent trolls.”

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  • ulvy

    just think about that someone actually holds the patent for the wheel an aussy non the less

  • Cynicism Inc.

    So in other words, only big companies will truly have any patent rights. Anyone else won’t be able to challenge them in a legitimate case, for fear that they may lose simply because the defendant can afford to throw more money at the problem to make it go away, then ruin the plaintiff financially for daring to challenge them as icing on the cake. Meanwhile, when a big company goes after a little one, even if they lose the case, their opponents will not have the same big, costly legal departments, making it no real skin off their collective nose to pay up. In short, it’s an intimidation tactic. “We can afford to fight this battle. Can you?”

    If these companies were serious about protecting the patent rights of legitimate creators this is not how they would go about it. They would be pushing for reforms and redefinitions of the laws, rather than trying to turn the courtroom into a game of high-stakes legal poker. If they really wanted to see legitimate patents protected, and patent trolls thwarted, the correct thing to do would be to push for the law to require that you actually be doing something – and something relevant – with your patents in order to hold them. Forcing patent holders to either put their patents to use or lose them would be beneficial for everyone. This, though, is nothing more than a show of muscle, intended to protect their own jealously-guarded and underutilized properties, while letting them force anyone holding the patent to something they want to roll over and let them have their way.

  • anononodon

    Worlds largest patent troll to fight other patent trolls…. hmm what’s wrong with this picture?

  • Robert Dutrow

    I guess combining their legal resources will allow them to sue first

  • like apple have never filed a “vague patent”

  • Tim

    So how does this tie into Apple being part of Rockstar who is currently suing Google?

  • sean

    Fuck apple

    • terpep

      Said by someone who have never used an Apple device before. Grow Up.

      • youre dumb


      • Robert Dutrow

        how would you know that? lol, troll

      • BoBoZoBo

        You don’t need to use a product to accurately asses how much of an asshole a company is. Apple is the biggest patent troll on the planet, they even have a shell company to execute the trolling. Besides, I have used it, and I think they are assholes. Does that qualify?

      • TheSoy

        Using Apple products would suddenly make his say what?

      • twstyyyyy

        I’ve used apple products and still I think Fuck Apple. So fuck you you grow up.

      • myself

        I am an iPhone user and I won’t buy any other Apple product. Fuck apple

  • jas

    Age old processor technology? Yes, like 1996 old; when WARF submitted the patent application.

    Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s public use. The patent is still active and Apple will likely have to pay.