In a decade that has seen major developments in intellectual property rights and IP law, 2014 was still a significant year. Tech giants such as Google, Samsung and Apple grabbed headlines in their battles over infringement claims, patent reform measures were debated, then scrapped, and a landmark case changed the game for software patents.
Here are our top three developments in the intellectual property arena in 2014:
Patent reform. One major development in the IP arena in 2014 was the U.S. Senate’s failure to act upon the Innovation Act, a patent reform bill that previously sailed through the House with bipartisan support. President Obama indicated he would sign such a bill, but it reportedly was forced off the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before coming up for a vote.
The primary sticking point was the issue of fee shifting. The Innovation Act would have forced a patent infringement plaintiff to assume a defendant’s legal fees if the plaintiff ultimately failed to demonstrate infringement. Though precedent for awarding legal fees to the defendant in an unsuccessful infringement case now does exist, codifying fee shifting in law is another matter. The death of the bill in committee will not be the last word on the matter, however, and the legislative goal seems clear: forcing patent holders to assume a degree of risk when alleging infringement.
Alice vs. CLS Bank. Other patent news may have rivaled it for media coverage, but it is difficult to argue that there was a more important development in intellectual property law in 2014 than the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Alice vs. CLS Bank. The ruling’s implications for “abstract ideas” in patents for business methods and computer software remain hotly debated in IP circles. The USPTO just issued a revised set of interim guidelines for patent examiners who are trying to put the Alice ruling into practice. Many uncertainties remain, however, and the continued fallout from Alice is likely to play out in both the courts and at the USPTO for years.
Cybercrime threats to intellectual property. While Alice inarguably was a watershed moment for intellectual property, 2014 saw another issue gaining attention; cyber theft of intellectual property assets. The infamous Sony hack, which the U.S. government blamed on North Korea, was merely one high-profile example of thieves targeting a company’ intellectual property. The reality is that cybertheft of intellectual property already was costing businesses millions even before the Sony hack spurred the issue into the mainstream media.
The stakes have never been higher, as the CEO of security firm Symantec said in discussing the growing threat of theft of intellectual property through cybercrime. “What I’m most concerned about for the world is the economic threat if intellectual property is transferred from IP creators to countries with lower costs,” said Symantec CEO Steve Bennett. “It will have a big negative impact on global economic growth.”
And it’s not only the tech giants such as Google and IBM that need to be concerned. Bennett told Financial Times that “hackers entering corporate networks to steal intellectual property from product plans to source code is the ‘biggest enterprise risk’ for companies that create IP, however small they are.”
With 2014 proving to be such a momentous year for intellectual property, 2015 likely will see the continuation of many of these issues. Stay tuned for our predictions of the IP trends and issues likely to capture attention in the year ahead.