Patent litigation increasingly pursued by universities

Glenn W. Peterson

It is common these days to hear about a lawsuit between two tech giants such as Apple and Samsung. Smartphones and other small electronics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the technological advances that make this possible are a major point of contention. Patent infringement lawsuits seemingly come with the territory.

While lawsuits between rival companies are common, you might be surprised to read about Apple getting sued by a university. Indeed, Apple is currently being sued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison over microprocessor technology, and this type of lawsuit is not an isolated incident. According to a recent news article, between 45 and 50 patent-related lawsuits are filed each year by educational institutions in the U.S.

It’s well known that universities – especially research universities – often churn out budding inventors and entrepreneurs. In fact, many of these prestigious schools are here in California. But students and professors at these schools also produce amazing new technology and inventions with immediate commercial value. So who does that intellectual property belong to?

In some cases, professors will patent their own work. In other cases, patent ownership may be worked out with the school that funded the research behind it. But for some people, this leads to a difficult ethical conundrum: If public universities are subsidized by the government using taxpayer dollars, should they be allowed to patent intellectual property and to sue for infringement?

The answer to that question may be up for debate. What is clear, however, is that universities are responsible for a lot of important innovations, and they want to ensure that companies and individuals are not unduly profiting from them.

If you need help with patent registration, copyright protection or any other intellectual property issue, please discuss your case with an experienced attorney.