Patent Matters: A Legal Eagle’s View –

Some might say that Jerry Riedinger is an expert on patent litigation with a resume that is as long as your arm. That would be true if you had the wingspan of Manute Bol. Riedinger is a partner in the Seattle office of Perkins Coie, where he chairs the firm’s patent litigation practice. And the link to his bio on the firm’s website runs several pages and lists his many accomplishments, including representing clients in numerous patent cases.

Q What’s the best thing that could happen to patents?

A The purpose of our patent system is to promote innovation. I’d like to see more companies stop wasting their money on cases, and use it to promote innovation.

Q What’s the worst thing that could happen to patents?

A Easily, half or three-fourths of the money spent on patent litigation is just wasted during the discovery. The worst thing to happen would be that patent litigation, and its costs, continue to rise.

Q Where are you seeing the most growth in patent litigation?

A The growth right now is in software and electrical engineering.

Q What about in biotech?

A There is a lot of patent work with biotech companies and pharmaceuticals. But not so much yet with the filing of lawsuits. That’s because the lawsuits tend to follow where the volume of sales are. And where is there money now to be made from patent litigation? The answer is in software. [Editor’s note: Microsoft spends about $100 million annually as it typically is faced with an average of 35 to 40 patent lawsuits at any given time; see story, opposite page]

Q Well, when you add them all up, patent infringement cases are increasing, no matter the industry. How do you see it affecting companies and their investors?

A The reason why the patent system exists is perfectly in line with venture capitalists. Patents are meant to promote innovation. But the result of the increase in litigation is that slowly, over time, patents are having their power and scope reduced. I’d hate to see a huge mess, where everyone sues each other over patent rights, and innovation in no longer fostered.

Also, patent litigation is definitely having an effect on investments in the medical device market. New companies are finding it hard to break in, because of competition from the larger, established companies, which hold the patents and have the power and the means to file lawsuits.

Q So what advice do you give clients?

A In our patent system, the first to file wins the race; the second loses everything. If you want to file a patent, be smart and be first. If you want to avoid litigation, don’t file patents. They are a ticket to a lawsuit. But that strategy is risky.