Legal Intern, Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy
Recently, the Manhattan Institute decided to take on the challenging issue of patent "trolling," a practice in which so-called Patent Assertion Entities acquire the rights to a patent and then extract licensing fees from those who infringe upon the covered material. I am proud to say that these efforts have culminated in the release of our latest Trial Lawyers Inc. issue, entitled "Patent Trolls."
The Trial Lawyers Inc. series was formulated in order to shed light on some of the more egregious abuses of power by the trial bar and its related associations. The increasingly business-related focus of these associations has wrongly shifted the main purpose of lawsuits from protecting clients to maximizing profits, largely on tenuous legal theories that harm businesses and, by extension, consumers.
Today, The Washington Post's Timothy B. Lee offered a detailed report on the substantive and practical impact of this latest TLI issue:
The paper is less an academic study than a work of advocacy. It tells the now-familiar story of how patent trolls make no useful products themselves but use the courts to extract cash from legitimate businesses. The document is stuffed with insets denouncing people Manhattan regards as patent-trolling villains, complete with unflattering caricatures.
Chicago litigator Raymond Niro is described as the "Original King of the Patent Trolls." A company called MPHJ is accused of operating a "scanner shakedown." And the study describes how federal courts in the Eastern District of Texas adopted patent-friendly rules that have made it the "rocket docket" for patent lawsuits.
Ultimately, the details of the paper are less important than who is publishing it. The Manhattan Institute is a prominent think tank with deep ties to conservative elites and the business community. The study's publication is another sign that the political right is paying attention to the patent system's growing dysfunction. And given that the Obama administration has endorsed a slate of patent reforms similar to those the Manhattan Institute favors, there's a real chance of change actually happening.
It might not be the most glowing endorsement of the Manhattan Institute itself, but it highlights one of the most important facets of political discourse: the growing consensus. The growing consensus over patent reform lends credence to the hope for a stable, efficient patent system in the near future.