Comi Sharif, Managing Editor
In 2009, Robert P. Greenspoon explored the idea of adjusting the patent court system to improve efficiency for the adjudication of small-scale claims. His article, Is the United States Finally Ready for a Patent Small Claims Court?, appearing in Volume 10 Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, pointed out the deterrent-like effect that high transaction costs involved with traditional patent litigation have on inventors trying to protect their intellectual property. Greenspoon argues that if patent holders are merely trying to recover small sums from infringers, the lengthy and expensive patent litigation system currently in effect often outweighs the remedies available through litigation. As a result, Greenspoon suggests the creation of a “Patent Small Claims Court” to resolve these issues. Seeing that it’s been over five years since Greenspoon’s article, it makes sense to reexamine this topic and identify the some of the recent developments related to the article.
In May of 2012, the USPTO and United States Copyright Office co-sponsored a roundtable discussion to consider the possible introduction of small claims courts for patent and copyright claims. A few months later, The USPTO held another forum focused solely on patent small claims proceedings. A major emphasis of these discussions was conformity of the new court with the U.S. Constitution (an issue addressed by Greenspoon in his article). In December of 2012 the USPTO published a questionnaire to seek feedback from the public on the idea of a patent small claims court. The focus of the survey involved matters relating to subject matter jurisdiction, venue, case management, appellate review, and available remedies. See this link for the official request and list of questions from the USPTO submitted in the Federal Register. The deadline for submitting responses has since passed, but the results of the survey are still unclear.
In Greenspoon’s article, he addresses a few of the unsuccessful past attempts to create a small claims patent court. In 2013, the House of Representative passed a bill, which authorized further study into the idea of developing a pilot program for patent small claims procedures in certain judicial districts. See H.R. 3309, 113th Cong. (2013). Senate did not pass the bill, however, so no further progress occurred.
Overall, though there appears to be continued interest in creating a patent small claims system, it doesn’t seem likely that one will be created in the near future. The idea is far from dead, though, and perhaps some of Greenspoon’s proposals can still help influence a change. Stay tuned.