Here’s a link to an interesting article in the May 5, 2008 issue of Forbes, that highlights the use of anonymous, ex parte requests for reexamination of issued patents to the Patent Office. The result of a reexamination is to stall enforcement of the patent.
The article highlights the plight of Anthony Brown, a lawyer who purchased the patent for compression of an electronic file for transmission over a communications line (think JPEG, this ubiquitous). Before Brown purchased this patent it had laid dormant (the fate of the vast majority of issued patents). After Brown purchased the patent and began a licensing/enforcement program –
“A petition filed in 2000 by parties unknown asked the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to reexamine whether the processes the patent described were novel enough to deserve a patent. The feds agreed to the review, a common practice if the questions raised seem substantial. The catch is that during the review the holder of the patent can’t demand licensing fees, and the patent’s life doesn’t get extended accordingly. The reexam of the JPEG patent lasted seven years”
After the patent survived that challenge, Brown hit his next roadblock –
“But last year saw yet another anonymous challenge. This one was filed by Chicago patent attorney Vernon Francissen, who declines to identify his client. Francissen suggested the JPEG patent’s current version had slipped through an overburdened system and was being applied too broadly. In March the Patent Office agreed to a second reexam, again putting up a roadblock to Brown’s licensing campaign.”
As a result of the impact of a successful request for rexamination, reexamination requests have become an almost standard strategy for defendants in patent litigation.