The official count of patent lawsuits barely ticked upwards in 2007; but interviews I've done recently make it clear that the number of defendants has jumped significantly as plaintiffs rushed to beat patent reform, many by filing suit in East Texas late last year. (More on that when our patent litigation survey is published next week in IPLB's July issue.) Not long before it went down, the now-defunct Troll Tracker blog counted up numbers from the biggest districts to estimate a big increase in patent defendants.
Today at the FCBA Bench & Bar Conference, Michelle Lee, patent chief at Google Inc., threw out some numbers that make the trend clear. When she started at Google four years ago, the company was contending with just one patent lawsuit, she said.
Year two—two patent lawsuits.
Year three—two (additional) patent lawsuits.
Year four—last year—17 new patent lawsuits.
Twelve of the 17 suits were filed in the Eastern District of Texas.
“What we’re facing is an increasing number of patent lawsuits brought by entities with no other business other than monetization of patent assets,” said Lee, adding that those patents are often “of dubious quality.”
“There’s a huge cost to us in defending these cases. The discovery burdens are disproportionately on the defendant.” Defendant companies tend to want to compromise, especially companies that don’t have Google-like resources, she said.
“These patent asserters are often very sophisticated," Lee continued. "They know exactly how much it costs you to defend this litigation… for a modest case, it’s $4-5 million. So they come in with a settlement offer at five, or maybe even four."
With Lee on the panel were Celera founder Michael Hunkapiller, Segway inventor Dean Kamen, and Katharine Ku, Stanford University's director of licensing.
That's all from Monterey.