In August, real estate agents in Texas fended off a company’s demands for royalty payments for a feature of many websites: the ability to show prospective home buyers where local schools, parks and grocery stores are. Administrative law judges at the United States Patent and Trademark Office found that the patent claims were simply not valid.
A few months before, in February, judges at the patent office put an end to “Project Paperless,” an attempt to extract royalties from small businesses using off-the-shelf scanners to scan documents to email. The litigants pressing for payment, the judges determined, had no right to the technology.
In September last year, they stopped Teva Pharmaceutical from extending its exclusive right to sell the blockbuster multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone, and fend off generic drug manufacturers for years after its original patent expired, simply by patenting the method to administer it in a 40-milligram dose three times a week.
In the five years since it began its work — a result of the America Invents Act of 2011 — the Patent Trial and Appeal Board has saved companies more than $2 billion in legal fees alone, according to Joshua Landau, patent counsel at the Computer and Communications Industry Association, offering an expeditious and relatively cheap avenue to challenge patents of doubtful validity.
The benefits of stopping bad patents from snaking their way through the economy have been even greater.