Mandatory Joinder: An Indirect Method for Improving Patent Quality – Note by Edward Hsieh

From Volume 77, Number 3 (March 2004)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) issues over 170,000 patents a year. Unfortunately, the PTO makes mistakes and issues some invalid or “bad” patents that do not meet the statutory requirements of novelty and nonobviousness. The simplest approach to eliminating bad patents is to subject applications to stricter scrutiny by the PTO. A recent article, however, has questioned the efficiency of spending more resources at the examination stage. Aside from the patent prosecution procedure, federal patent law allows administrative reexaminations, either ex parte or inter partes. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of this approach is undercut by the low number of reexaminations actually requested.

This Note takes a more indirect route to improving patent quality. A major problem with the patent litigation system is that it is often cheaper for individual defendants to settle than to litigate, even if the patent is clearly invalid. The current system allows patentees to profit from bad patents and, therefore, creates an incentive to file bad patents. Further, patentees strategically sue small companies, knowing that they lack the resources to challenge patent validity effectively.