Judge Randall Rader of the Federal Circuit was the luncheon speaker at the AIPLA Annual Meeting Friday in DC and, as usual, he spoke well. So many of his fellow- (and one female) judges where there that he quipped: “Now that we’re here and we have a quorum, shall we vote on inequitable conduct?” (Nervous laughter from large audience.) He set up his comments by recalling a meeting he had with the judiciary in Brazil, where he encountered a “Patent Skeptisauros” judge who argued that the patent system itself was outdated, nonfunctional and was doing damage to Brazil and other less-developed countries.
Judge Rader said he replied that it was the accuser’s understanding that was non-functional and destructive. He argued that we live in a world where technology is decentralized and that no single entity can “keep pace with the patent system.” Rather, the patent system functions to bring innovators together to cooperate and to coordinate their work. A “patent thicket” should not be thought of as a legal minefield, but rather as an invitation to begin such cooperation and coordination. He recalled a conversation with a Japanese colleague who said, in effect, that the comparative global advantage of the U.S. going forward is innovation and invention and asked, “Why are you trying to limit it?”
While the title of the talk was “Trolls and Other Creatures of the Night,” Judge Rader spent relatively little time on that topic. He dismissed the definition of patent troll as one who holds patents but does not practice them (commercially) as unfairly including universities and other research institutions. He said that the proper definition is “anyone who asserts a patent far beyond its value” and that the power of trolls can be limited if district court judges can develop procedures to properly value IP early in the litigation process, where they must be the “gatekeepers of damages.”
In addition, Judge Rader acknowledged the role of patent litigation in setting the fence lines of IP, and urged us to consider that “Good fences make good neighbors.”
As lunch speeches go, this was no rubber chicken, and I applaud Judge Rader for getting AIPLA’s new business year (and new President, Alan Kasper) off to a good start.