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Predatory Patent Litigation

Erik N. Hovenkamp

Northwestern University Department of Economics

August 5, 2013

Despite their extensive experience in patent litigation, the most litigious patent assertion entities (PAEs) fare relatively poorly in court. These firms commonly file dubious infringement claims on which they are ostensibly very likely to lose money if litigated to judgment. It is therefore tempting to conjecture that these PAEs are mistaken to pursue such litigation. To the contrary, we argue that this is in fact part of a calculated strategy of predatory patent litigation used to monetize low quality, excessively broad patents. Under this strategy, a PAE aggressively litigates when its licensing demands are rejected -- despite expecting to lose money on the suit -- in order to injure the defendant and establish a litigious reputation that intimidates future defendants into more lucrative settlements. Like predatory pricing, this involves a short run loss that is recouped in the long run through supra-competitive pricing.

The welfare impact of predatory patent litigation is unambiguously negative: it creates a market for low quality patents, exacerbates the patent thicket problem and inflates social costs -- and it does so without improving on the ability of non-predatory PAEs to encourage innovation. The welfare impact of non-predatory PAE activity, by contrast, is prima facie ambiguous. Provisory fee shifting remedies like the SHIELD Act may have some success in deterring predatory litigation, but they suffer from problems of deficient enforceability or high information costs. We propose that potential defendants can do better by forming a litigation cost-sharing agreement: a contractual agreement that divides a member's defense costs among the group when the plaintiff is a PAE, and which requires members to litigate predatory claims to judgment. This deters predatory litigation without deterring meritorious infringement claims.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: patent, assertion, entity, non-practicing, troll, licensing, litigation, predatory, predation, reputation, intellectual property, innovation, thicket, technology, fee shifting, SHIELD Act, software, welfare

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Date posted: August 11, 2013 ; Last revised: October 8, 2013

Suggested Citation

Hovenkamp, Erik N., Predatory Patent Litigation (August 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2308115 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2308115

Contact Information

Erik N. Hovenkamp (Contact Author)
Northwestern University Department of Economics ( email )
2003 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States
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