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The US Supreme Court will soon weigh the constitutionality of “inter partes reviews,” a procedure that has been hailed by many in the tech sector as one of the most effective ways of weeding out bad patents.
The Supreme Court has often overturned Federal Circuit rulings in recent years, and that pattern has generally led to rulings that are praised by opponents of so-called “patent trolls,” a colloquial term for non-practicing entities—the licensing shops that file the majority of patent lawsuits. But if the Supreme Court continues that pattern in one of its next cases, it could actually result in the wholesale elimination of one of the most powerful tools for fighting patent trolls.
The case to be considered, Oil States Energy Services v. Greene’s Energy Group, directly challenges the legality of inter partes reviews, often abbreviated as IPRs. Boiled down, an IPR petition is a request for the US Patent and Trademark Office to reconsider whether it should have granted a certain patent in the first place. If the USPTO takes up an IPR petition, the result is a kind of “litigation-light,” with briefing by lawyers and a short trial-like procedure at the USPTO. The IPR process was created by the 2011 America Invents Act, and the reviews got underway in 2012.
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