Remind Me: Why Do We Let Patent Lawsuits Go On Even As USPTO Has Doubts About The Patents?

While plenty of people are familiar with the fact that NTP got $612.5 million from RIM in a patent dispute a few years back (which drew tremendous scrutiny into the realm of patents), one of the most interesting details that many people didn’t follow was that at the same time as the lawsuit was going on, the US Patent Office was re-examining those same patents, and issuing rejections of the very same patents. Despite the USPTO even rushing to announce its problems with the patents way ahead of schedule, the judge chose not to wait for the final rejections and pressured RIM into paying up.

This sort of thing happens all the time.

For example, just weeks after TiVo was practically dancing in the streets over its latest wins over EchoStar in a patent dispute over basic DVR functionality, the USPTO has given an initial rejection on some of the claims at issue in the case. While TiVo is quick to downplay this as just the first step in a long process (which it gets to respond to), it’s being a bit misleading in suggesting that this sort of thing happens all the time. Sure — it happens a lot, but to questionable patents. It seems that, if the USPTO has agreed to review a patent and clearly the examiners have serous questions about the patentability of certain claims, shouldn’t any lawsuits that hinge on those patents be put on hold?

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