GAO: Number of Patent Suits Up More Than 150% Since 2007, Majority Are Tech-Related

The number of patent lawsuits filed in U.S. district courts climbed from 2,000 in 2007 to more than 5,000 last year, and the majority of those were related to tech patents, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.

The nonpartisan government watchdog found that nine years ago, 38 percent of individuals were defending patent lawsuits pertaining to computer and communications technologies. By 2015, that percentage had climbed to 62. Additionally, software-related patents comprised the majority of infringement suits filed each year from 2009 through 2015.

“Patents related to computer and communications technologies are easier to unintentionally infringe because they are more likely to be unclear and overly broad,” the GAO said, citing stakeholders and reviewed published research.

For years the tech industry has called for an overhaul to patent rules and laws, saying that frivolous lawsuits filed by so-called “patent trolls” harm innovation. Those entities purchase patents but don’t use them to develop products; instead they seek monetary compensation from tech companies and startups through lawsuits.

Tech advocates have identified the Eastern District of Texas as a federal district sympathetic to patent trolls because of the high volume of patent infringement lawsuits the court takes up.

The GAO report supports the industry’s criticism of the court. Twenty percent of patent infringement cases were filed in the Eastern District of Texas in 2007, and by 2015 half of all such cases were filed there, GAO said.

The report said the court has been attractive for patent litigants because of the speed at which cases move to trial. “In addition, according to one paper we reviewed, judges in the Eastern District of Texas have implemented a number of court rules and practices to attract patent infringement suits to their district,” GAO said.

Efforts have been made in Congress to pass patent reform. But after some promising movements, the issue stalled due to difficulties involving both pharmaceutical and tech lobbying groups.

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake took to the Senate floor last week to stump for legislation he introduced that would combat the rise of patent trolls who file suit in the Eastern District of Texas. He referred to those entities as “a real threat to innovation.”