THE “25% RULE” FOR PATENT INFRINGEMENT DAMAGES AFTER UNILOC
Roy J. Epstein
2012 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 001
The 2011 decision by the Federal Circuit in Uniloc v. Microsoft properly condemned the “25% Rule,” which bases a reasonable royalty on 25% of an infringer’s profits. Nonetheless, at least one proponent of the Rule continues to argue that the Rule is fundamentally valid and should remain in use. This article analyzes the historical development of the Rule, its conceptual basis, its application in actual cases, and relevant insights from other recent Federal Circuit cases. Each analysis shows fundamental problems and contradictions that demonstrate the Rule can never be a reliable patent damages methodology. There is no reason to change the conclusion in Uniloc.
A classic property rights question looms large in the field of patent law: where do the rights of inventors end and the rights of the public begin? The right of inventors to modify the scope of their claimed inventions, even after the patent issues, is in direct tension with the concepts of public notice and the public domain. The Patent Act currently permits broadening of claims so long as a reissue application demonstrating intent to broaden is filed within two years of the original patent issue. Over the years, however, this relatively straightforward statutory provision has sparked numerous disputes over its meaning and application.
On September 8, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments for In re Staats. In this case, Apple Computer, Inc. appeals the rejection of a continuation reissue patent application. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences rejected the application on the grounds that Apple attempted to broaden the scope of its patent claims in a manner not “foreseeable” more than eight years after the patent first issued. Apple contends that the language of the statute and prior case law permit its interpretation, and the application should be allowed in the interest of innovation. This issue is hardly a new one—this submission highlights nearly 140 years of case law, legislative history, and statutory shaping pertaining to broadening reissues. We analyze the issues raised in the briefs from Staats, as well as the oral arguments. Finally, we discuss from a practitioner’s perspective what the Federal Circuit could do—and should do—in the field of broadening reissues.
THE CLASSIC 25% RULE AND THE ART OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LICENSING
2011 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 006
Patents & Technology
Fifty years ago, Robert Goldscheider helped pioneer the use of a methodology known as “the 25% Rule,” a tool for determining reasonable royalties in intellectual property licensing negotiations. The Rule holds that licensees of intellectual property normally deserve the lion’s share of the profit because they usually bear the bulk of the business risk associated with bringing the intellectual property to market. Experts familiar with the art of intellectual property licensing frequently rely on the 25% Rule to rationally determine reasonable royalties in litigation and transactional settings. The Rule’s prominence has been accompanied by unfortunate misunderstandings about its form and substance. It is not, as some suggest, intended to be a simple shortcut to determine patent royalties. Rather, it was developed as, and remains, a meticulous methodology inspired by significant private transactions and ultimately refined by brilliant judicial interpretation. As such, it is inappropriate to condescendingly diminish it to a mere “rule of thumb.” When properly understood and applied, the Classic 25% Rule is an effective discipline that achieves the high standards of reliability demanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Daubert and Kumho Tire cases. On January 4, 2011, the Federal Circuit, in Uniloc v. Microsoft, held that “the 25 percent rule of thumb is a fundamentally flawed tool for determining a baseline royalty rate in a hypothetical negotiation.”2 This decision is problematic for a variety of reasons: (1) it assumes that the 25% Rule, as it is classically understood, is a rule of thumb; (2) district courts could interpret it as prohibiting damages experts from applying the Classic 25% Rule as a tool for determining a baseline royalty rate, because of the court’s confusion between a baseline royalty rate and a “reasonable royalty” under § 284 of the Patent Act; and (3) it could denigrate the skills of true experts who have utilized, and continue to utilize, the Classic 25% Rule in a way that otherwise meets the admissibility standards of the Federal Rules of Evidence. This article attempts to correct these misunderstandings in the hope of restoring some certainty in an area of jurisprudence that, unfortunately, has become an unpredictable area of the law.
NON-PER SE TREATMENT OF BUYER PRICE-FIXING IN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SETTINGS
2011 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 004
Patents & Technology
The ability of intellectual property owners to earn monopoly rents and the inability of horizontal competitors to price fix legally are two propositions that are often taken as givens. This iBrief challenges the wholesale adoption of either proposition within the context of buyer price-fixing in intellectual property markets. More specifically, it examines antitrust law’s role in protecting patent holders’ rents through its condemnation of otherwise ostensibly efficient buyer price fixing. Using basic economic analysis, this iBrief refines the legal standards applicable at this point of intersection between antitrust and patent law. In particular, the author recommends the limited abandonment of per se condemnation of buyer price-fixing within pure intellectual property contexts. As an alternative, a coarse screen which accounts for both price and innovation effects is proposed. This recommendation represents one example of how antitrust law can better account for the complicated and imperfectly understood effects of the patent system on social welfare.
LIMITATION OF SALES WARRANTIES AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS: AN EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS OF IPHONE WARRANTIES’ DETERRENT IMPACT ON CONSUMERS
2010 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 018
Patents & Technology
Apple’s success with the Apple iPhone has brought with it certain problems. Its success has engendered a community that has attempted to circumvent Apple’s exclusive service agreement with AT&T. Unfortunately for Apple (and similarly situated manufacturers), intellectual property law allows consumers to alter their products so as to circumvent relationships that manufacturers may have with others. The patent and copyright law first sale doctrine allows consumers to manipulate a product after it is purchased. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly turning to alternatives to intellectual property to secure control over the device after the sale. One such alternative is the exclusion of warranty under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code. This iBrief considers whether limitation of warranties have the deterrence effect manufacturers desire. Said differently, it considers whether manufacturers can use warranty limitations to prevent consumers from using their products in an unauthorized manner. The iBrief presents a behavioral model based on the Triandis model of planned behavior and enhances the model by accounting for likely and unlikely benefits and detriments. The model suggests that participants weigh the probability and magnitude of the detriment against the probability and magnitude of the beneficial impact when making the decision to engage in technological piracy. This model, considered with other empirical evidence, suggests that Apple’s warranty could be a stronger deterrent for consumers than civil liability. The iBrief concludes that manufacturers can better protect their post-sale expectation of profits by raising consumer awareness of their warranty’s quality and by raising awareness of the consequences for using the product in a way that is outside the terms of the consumers’ authorized use.
STANDARDS × PATENTS ÷ ANTITRUST = ∞: THE INADEQUACY OF ANTITRUST TO ADDRESS PATENT AMBUSH
2010 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 017
Patents & Technology
“Patent ambush” describes certain rent-seeking behavior by the owner of patent rights to a technology that is essential to an industry standard. Two cases, Qualcomm and Rambus, represent attempts of the Third and D.C. Circuits, respectively, to address patent ambushes using federal antitrust statutes. In both cases, antitrust law proves inadequate to the task. Under Qualcomm, licensees gain too much power to extort undervalued royalty rates from patent holders who have disclosed their rights during standard-setting. Under Rambus, coupled with the dearth of other options to combat patent ambushes, non-disclosing patent holders are given free reign over standardized markets, to the detriment of end-users. This iBrief argues that the flaws in each rule inhere from a fundamental inadequacy of antitrust law to address patent ambush.
Patents & Technology
The recent rise of non-practicing patentees (NPPs) in the clean technology space comes at a time when the international community is debating the role of intellectual property rights in the deployment and implementation of technologies to combat climate change. While the impact of intellectual property rights on the deployment of clean technology has been studied, less attention has been given to the role intellectual property regimes play in maintaining the operation of those technologies already deployed in the fight against global warming. This iBrief focuses on clean technologies that have already achieved substantial market penetration and observes that recent trends in patent law are, to a large extent, allowing those technologies to continue working to reduce carbon emissions. Specifically, the course correction in the law of patent injunctions brought about by eBay v. MercExchange and the endorsement of court-imposed ongoing royalty payments in Paice v. Toyota demonstrate an important shift in patent law that is tempering the impact of clean tech NPPs in Title 35 infringement actions in federal courts. However, these trends have caused a tactical adjustment by clean tech NPPs—namely, filing suits in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), where the remedy of an exclusion order is available. These ITC cases could adversely affect implemented clean technologies.