There is a mythology in the US about the value and importance of patents -- and because of that, it's not surprising that patent trials involving juries quite often end with the patent holder being declared victor, and a huge amount being awarded by the jury. Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent have been involved in a whole series of patent battles recently. Two years ago, a jury found for Alcatel-Lucent on a patent related to MP3 technology, and it awarded Alcatel-Lucent a stunning $1.5 billion
. It didn't take long for a judge to toss out
that award. More recently, in another patent dispute involving the same parties (but a totally different patent), a jury awarded Alcatel-Lucent $358 million because Microsoft included a "date-picker" calendar tool in Microsoft Outlook. Yet, once again, an appeals court has now tossed out the jury's award amount
, noting how ridiculous it is that such a tiny, minor feature should get such a huge dollar value:
The portion of the profit that can be credited to the infringing use of the date-picker tool is exceedingly small.... In short, Outlook is an enormously complex software program comprising hundreds, if not thousands or even more, features. We find it inconceivable to conclude, based on the present record, that the use of one small feature, the date-picker, constitutes a substantial portion of the value of Outlook.
So why do we (as a matter of policy, not law) allow juries to make such decisions when they seem to have trouble picking reasonable amounts, given the nature of the patents and the lawsuits?