IP Litigation in United States District Courts: 1994 to 2014

49 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2015 Last revised: 21 Apr 2016

See all articles by Matthew Sag

Matthew Sag

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: January 14, 2016


This article undertakes a broad-based empirical review of Intellectual Property (IP) litigation in United States federal district courts from 1994 to 2014. Unlike the prior literature, this study analyzes federal copyright, patent and trademark litigation trends as a unified whole. It undertakes a systematic analysis of more than 190,000 individual case filings and examines the subject matter, geographical and temporal variation within federal IP litigation over the last two decades.

This article makes a number of significant contributions to our understanding of IP litigation. It analyzes time trends in copyright, patent and trademark litigation filings at the national level, but it does much more than simply count the number of cases; it explores the meaning behind those numbers and shows how in some cases the observable headline data can be positively misleading. Exploring the changes in the distribution of IP litigation over time and their regional distribution leads to a number of significant insights, these are summarized below. Just as importantly, one of the key contributions of this article is that it frames the context for more fine-grained empirical studies in the future. Many of the results and conclusions herein demonstrate the dangers of basing empirical conclusions on narrow slices of data from selected regions or selected time periods.

Some of the key findings of this study are as follows:

First, the rise of Internet file-sharing has transformed copyright litigation in the United States. More specifically, to the extent that the rate of copyright litigation has increased over the last two decades, that increase appears to be entirely attributable to lawsuits against anonymous Internet file sharers. These lawsuits largely took place in two distinct phases: the first phase largely consisted of lawsuits seeking to discourage illegal downloading; the second phase largely consists lawsuits seeking to monetize online infringement.

Second, in relation to patent litigation, the apparent patent litigation explosion between 2010 and 2012 is something of a mirage; however there has been a sustained patent litigation inflation over the last two decades the extent of which has not been fully recognized until now. The reason why this steady inflation was mistaken for a sudden explosion was that the true extent of patent litigation was disguised by permissive joinder.

Third, in relation to the geography of IP litigation, it appears that filings in copyright, patent and trademark litigation are generally highly correlated. The major exceptions to that correlation are driven by short term idiosyncratic events in copyright and trademark litigation — these are discussed in detail — and by the dumbfounding willingness of the Eastern district Texas to engage in forum selling to attract patent litigation. The popularity of the Eastern District of Texas as a forum for patent litigation is a well-known phenomenon. However, the data and analysis presented in this study provides a new way of looking at the astonishing ascendancy of this district and the problem of form shopping in patent law more generally.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, Litigation, Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Empirical Legal Studies, Internet, File sharing, Trolls, Forum Shopping, Forum Selling, District courts

JEL Classification: K00, K11

Suggested Citation

Sag, Matthew, IP Litigation in United States District Courts: 1994 to 2014 (January 14, 2016). 101 Iowa Law Review 1065 (2016), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2570803 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2570803

Matthew Sag (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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