The United States Patent and Trademark Office is exploring establishment of a small claims court for patent disputes
Small Claims Court for Patent Disbutes
You may be familiar with small claims courts through your local court system or television programs like Judge Judy. Sometime soon we may see a Judge Judy for patent cases.
Small Claims Court could be more Efficient
Patent infringement law suits are notoriously expensive and time consuming. The issues and evidence are difficult to understand, even for highly educated judges and attorneys, and the federal courts that hear almost all patent disputes use complex rules and procedures that slow down the proceedings. Consequently, it is not unusual for a patent dispute to cost $1 million to prosecute through trial. If the case is appealed, the cost can go much higher. This large financial risk favors large corporations and often leaves small patent owners with no place to turn to resolve a dispute.
Local small claims courts are intended to handle certain limited types of disputes, such as breach of contract and some torts. These courts use simplified rules and there is usually a low cap on damages that can be awarded; $3,000 for example.
A small claims patent court might be an answer for small patent owners that want to enforce their patent rights but do not have the resources to go through the traditional court system. United States Patent and Trademark Office is requesting comments to address certain issues. It is not clear what a small claims patent court would look like. Some ideas include a five judge panel with a majority vote to determine rulings, limited discovery, a court appointed expert, a limit on damages, and a cap on trial time.
There are many issues that would need to be resolved. Patents infringement disputes, for instance, are governed by federal law and the Federal Government does not have small claims courts. If a patent small claims court is created, who would make the rulings; federal judges or perhaps administrative judges in the Patent Office? Would a decision in a patent claims case create precedent, res judicata or estoppel against the parties? Could a party in a patent small claims court appeal a judgment to a district court or appeals court?
Prior attempts to implement a small claims patent court gained support from attorneys, patent agents and inventors but failed to get any congressional support. One thing is certain, patents are too dry and the issues are too technical for a reality TV shows. Judge Judy will not have to learn patent law.