Intellectual property such as patents, copyrights and trademarks are often the most valuable assets of companies in California, and they may go to great lengths to see that they are protected. Business owners could be forgiven for thinking that proprietary technology, formulas or designs are safe from infringement once a patent has been issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but a review process put into place in 2012 may prompt them to reconsider this assumption.
The new process is known as inter partes review, and it has been taken advantage of most often by companies like Google and Apple that are frequently the defendants in patent infringement lawsuits. The procedure is designed to quickly and efficiently determine if an existing patent is valid and reduce pressure on the federal court system, but critics point to an 85 percent rejection rate as evidence that the process is unfairly skewed toward the companies making a challenge.
Persistent questions about the impartiality of the controversial patent review process have echoed through the federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court announced on Jan. 15 that it would hear a inter partes review case involving a New Jersey company that developed a speedometer that warns drivers when they begin to exceed the speed limit. The patent involved was cancelled after a challenge was made by a leading manufacturer of GPS technology. The Patent and Trademark Office says that any changes to review procedures should be made by Congress, but the Supreme Court decision to hear the case has been widely praised in the business community.
The inter partes review process clearly demonstrates that patent protection is an ongoing process. Attorneys with experience in this area may seek to protect the interests of their clients by scrutinizing their patents and patent applications to determine if they are likely to withstand the challenge and review process.