PALO ALTO, Calif. — The US patent system is imperfect but essentially sound, according to a handful of papers presented at a Stanford symposium. Patent reform is not needed, experts said, despite calls for it from the White House, Congress (where two draft bills seek it), industry, and academia.
The mobile patent wars appear to be on the decline and generally do not involve standards-essential patents, a Qualcomm expert said. Most patentees lose infringement suits, but that situation has not significantly changed in 20 years, according to a separate study. And other experts said the patent system is essentially sound, despite those who call for replacing it with a prize system.
Stanford's Hoover Institute is hosting a multi-year effort to study intellectual property in the US. The latest batch of papers was presented here this week.
The so-called smartphone wars may be on the decline, according to a paper co-authored by an engineer turned economist and a corporate IP attorney, both from Qualcomm. Contrary to widespread perceptions, the paper said, standards-essential patents (SEPs) and the threat of litigation based on infringing them were not major factors in the litigation.
The researchers analyzed all patent cases between 22 top smartphone makers and were argued before US district courts or the International Trade Commission since 2000. They found 111 such cases.
"It wasn't a large number of cases, which surprised us," said Kirti Gupta, the director of economic strategy for Qualcomm. The number of cases has been declining since a spike in 2010 (see chart below).
The cases involved more than 400 patents, but only 36% of them were SEPs. Patent holders did not win any injunctions or exclusion orders that would prevent the sale of products based on the SEPs. In July 2013, the ITC granted one exclusion order on one patent alleged to be an SEP, but President Barack Obama vetoed it.
"The majority of patents in the smartphone wars are not related to standards, [and] in general injunctions are still very difficult to obtain," Gupta said.
"The increase in litigation was primarily driven by a couple of late comers," she said. Apple was involved in the most cases -- 20 as a plaintiff and 27 as a defendant. "A lot of the litigation was driven by late entrants who are users of the [core cellular] technology."
Apple made only 21 proposals to the 3GPP cellular standards group, Gupta said. HTC (involved in 20 cases) made 928 proposals. By contrast, veteran cellphone makers such as Motorola Mobility and Samsung made more than 5,500.
Next page: Casting a broader cellular net