I recently read an interesting article (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20121116-phone-patents-an-absurd-battle/print) regarding just how many mobile device patent applications there currently are, and difficulty that the quantity of mobile patent applications create.
The article estimates that there are about ¼ of a million active patents in the united states that have relevance to the mobile applications. The article further states that there are around 1.5 million active patents, therefore mobile application patents cover around 17% of all pending patent applications and granted patents.
Because patent applications are written very broadly to account for changes in standards (wifi, 3g, 4g, Bluetooth, body-area-networks, etc.) patents that were written 10-15 years ago may still cover technology that is being currently developed. However, many companies may have patents covering mobile applications do not bother to do patent searches before filing patent applications. This is for various reasons, such as patent searches cost money, and if you are filing 1000 patents a year companies do not have the budget for a patent search for each patent application filed. Additionally, patent searches take time which may delay a patent filing past a bar date.
By not having patent searches completed, many companies may file (and may be subsequently granted) patents on the same technology. The following is excerpt from Christina Mulligan, a postdoctoral associate at Yale Law:
Christina Mulligan, one of the authors of the report and a postdoctoral associate at Yale Law School, says that the main problem is that software patents are so broad and vague that they are essentially impossible to index, and that means they can’t be searched efficiently. “It’s because it is more or less impossible to search them that no-one does it, and even if you tried you’d probably only find 25 of the 50 patents your software may infringe,” she explained. “It’s cheaper just to cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Moreover, other reasons companies may not complete patent searches is because if they are found to infringe a patented product that was a result of the patent search, then a court may find that the company “willfully infringed” the patent, which will lead to higher damages paid.
Because of the sheer amount of mobile application patents and applications currently on file, it would be impossible to do a patent search on each patent that is currently on file. The article estimates that it would cost around 1.5 trillion in attorney’s fees to do a complete search spending no more than 10 mins on each mobile patent application. For this reason alone, if a client asks me if I “guarantee patent searches,” I have to tell them that it would feasible impossible for me to do so even if there were no budgetary constraints.