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SCOTUS to examine patent dispute review process

In 2011, Congress took historic action in the area of intellectual property litigation when it announced a review board was being set up within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to hear and resolve patent disputes using a procedure referred to as inter partes review.

Since that time, the review board has exploded in popularity as a forum through which to resolve patent disputes. Indeed, close to 1,900 review petitions were filed there in fiscal year 2015 alone.

As to why the review board has proven so popular, particularly among tech companies, experts indicate that it's largely because patent disputes are resolved in a more efficient and effective manner than they are in federal courtrooms. Furthermore, they point out that a single ruling against a patent owner can serve to eliminate several dozen potential lawsuits.

However, the review board has been the subject of considerable controversy over the years, with critics arguing that it's invalidating patents far too quickly or serves as a veritable "death squad" for patents.

Indeed, a least one survey by the pharmaceutical industry found that at least a portion of a disputed patent has been invalidated by the review board as much as 87 percent of the time as opposed to only 42 percent of the time in federal court.  

In recent events, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear arguments in Cuozzo Speed Technologies v. Lee, a case concerning a speedometer patent owned by the plaintiff, which filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2012 against General Motors, TomTom and Garmin.

Here, Garmin filed a review petition and the matter was ultimately heard by the review board, which proceeded to invalidate Cuozzo's patent. This decision was later affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The issue before SCOTUS is whether the review board's practice of reviewing patents in the broadest fashion possible, the standard used in the initial review of patent applications, is proper.

Here, Cuozzo -- along with several companies and industry groups that have joined their cause -- are arguing that each patent must be reviewed in accordance with the ordinary meaning of its words, a more restrictive standard of review.

A decision will be handed down in June. Stay tuned for updates.

Those with any sort of concerns regarding intellectual property -- including trademark, copyright or patent infringement -- should strongly consider consulting with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.     

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