The trouble with patent-troll-hunting

NUCURRENT, A STARTUP in Chicago, has come up with a way to charge electronic gizmos wirelessly—a nifty trick for devices such as smartphones. So nifty, in fact, that Samsung, a giant South Korean device-maker, uses it in its mobile phones—or so NuCurrent claims. In 2018 NuCurrent sued Samsung in America for using its technology without paying royalties. In February Samsung denied NuCurrent’s allegations in a court filing. Then, between March and June, it filed seven legal challenges against NuCurrent’s patents. Navigating each will cost NuCurrent between $500,000 and $1m, says its boss, Jacob Babcock—a lot of money for a firm with 35 employees and no in-house lawyers.

Predicaments like Mr Babcock’s are increasingly common. Paul Michel, a former top judge on America’s patent court, attributes them to an “unco-ordinated overcorrection” to the plague of patent trolls, who accumulate patent rights with an eye to extorting payments from supposed infringers. To fight them, America’s government has weakened some intellectual-property protections, notably by reducing the threat of an injunction to block sales of the technology in question. In 2012 it created the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to hear retrospective challenges to a patent’s validity. And Supreme Court rulings have made it easier to prove patents invalid by narrowing the...



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