Should Those Sued In Bogus Patent Infringement Cases Be Able To Recover Legal Fees?
from the this-may-be-important dept
There’s a potentially important legal battle going on following a highly questionable patent infringement claim made against Netflix and Blockbuster. The whole case seems pretty ridiculous. Basically a patent attorney had a rather basic idea on how to improve Netflix with a minor feature that pretty much anyone could have come up with, got a patent on it, formed a “company” whose only purpose was to sue… and then sued. The court quickly dismissed the lawsuit, which is now being appealed. However, Netflix is appealing itself on a separate issue: saying that the current system makes it much harder for those being sued to get attorney’s fees, even in such ridiculous lawsuits.
Groklaw goes into more detail about the issues in the lawsuit, pointing out that those suing for patent infringement can get attorneys’ fees on cases where willful infringement is found, but those who are sued (even for bogus patents) can only recover attorneys’ fees in “exceptional cases.” Netflix is claiming that this creates an unfair imbalance. Lots of companies seem to be agreeing with Netflix, as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Toyota, and others have all filed amicus briefs siding with Netflix.
This is, actually, quite a big deal. An awful lot of totally bogus patent infringement lawsuits settle just because it’s cheaper to pay up than to fight it in court. Even if you “win,” the legal fees may outweigh what you could have settled for earlier on. And this perpetuates the problematic system. First, many patent system defenders take those “settlements” as proof that there was infringement and that the patents are valid. Second, it just gives those companies more reasons (and money) to keep suing others. It’s a huge problem for many companies today — and if the court reasonably lowered the barrier on granting attorneys’ fees against totally ridiculous patent claims, it might make some of those questionable patent holders think twice before suing.