Over the last year or so, we've seen two disturbing trends in enforcing patents. The first, is seeing patent holders suing a bunch of companies at once
rather than just one or two, as used to be standard. They do this because they fear that some type of patent reform is coming, either via Congress or the courts. So they want to get as many patent suits in as quickly as possible. The second trend is that, rather than taking patent infringement cases through the court system (which is bound by the recent precedents set by the Supreme Court that loosen patent rules), they use a loophole: taking patent infringement claims to the US International Trade Commission (ITC)
. The ITC has the authority, if it believes that infringement occurs, to block the import of infringing goods. The ITC doesn't need to pay attention to what the courts say, and doesn't need to wait for the USPTO to review a patent. It can simply decide infringement occurred and ban the import of the goods. This is, effectively, the equivalent of an injunction against the product (just the sort of thing the Supreme Court said should be used more cautiously
A Columbia professor has now picked up on both of these trends, getting the ITC to investigate 30 companies
for violating her patents on LED and laser technologies. Among the companies investigated: Sony, LG Electronics, Hitachi, Toshiba, Panasonic, Motorola, Nokia, Pioneer, and Samsung. Whether or not these patents turn out to be valid, it's a cheap tactic to use the ITC rather than going to the courts to fight this battle.