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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple, Google, Cisco and Intel this week sued the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, challenging the agency's recent rule that it can refuse to adjudicate patent claims while litigation about them is pending in court.

Why it matters: The companies say the rule hurts innovation and their legal rights, letting invalid patents stay on the books while lawsuits slowly wend their way through court.

Context: The rule, which was introduced by the USPTO in March and became final in May, deals with the agency's obligations around inter partes review (IPR) — a sort of expert-court process for assessing whether patent claims are valid.

  • USPTO says deferring to an ongoing court case is more efficient than setting up a parallel review internally.

Yes, but: District courts are costly and have less expertise in patent law, Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler told Axios. Cisco owns 16,000 U.S. patents, but the agency is undermining its ability to invalidate unworthy ones, he said.

  • "I don't know why [USPTO director Andrei Iancu] would do something that would weaken the patent system and allow invalid patents to remain on the books," Chandler said.

What they're saying: Chandler told Axios that tech companies had been chatting about their various experiences of being denied IPR review and found similar things were happening across the tech industry. They "got together and decided it was more efficient to bring one lawsuit instead of four," he said.

  • Tech companies see the suit as "a challenge to a sum" of ongoing changes at USPTO, said Josh Landau, patent counsel at tech trade group the Communications and Computer Industry Association.
  • "Google is joining others to ensure that this process remains an effective tool for maintaining an efficient, streamlined and strong patent system, as Congress intended,” Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, told Axios.
  • The USPTO declined to comment.

Meanwhile: On Tuesday, the same day the firms filed suit, the USPTO's Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which conducts the IPR process, rejected five of Google's appeals seeking review of another company's patent claims. The board cited an upcoming court case in the Eastern District of Texas, which is known to be especially friendly to patent holders, Law360 reports.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2020 - Technology

Google calls antitrust case "deeply flawed"

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee last July. Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Google says the Justice Department's lawsuit alleging competitive abuses is "deeply flawed" and would fail to help consumers.

Driving the news: The Justice Department and 11 states Tuesday filed an antitrust case against Google, accusing the company of using anticompetitive tactics to illegally monopolize the online search and search advertising markets.

Oct 20, 2020 - Technology

Here's what the U.S. antitrust case charges Google with

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Justice Department's new antitrust lawsuit against Google centers on the charge that Google has built a self-reinforcing machine to illegally insulate it from any serious competition in search.

Why it matters: DOJ spent more than a year investigating Google to assemble what prosecutors believe is the cleanest case for convincing a court that the company is deliberately hamstringing would-be competition. Both sides now face the likelihood of a bruising, years-long battle that could expand to touch on other aspects of Google's business.

Google's 20-year path from David to Goliath

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's taken Google two decades to transform from a beloved search innovator into a Big Tech behemoth.

Flashback: At Google's launch 22 years ago, it provided accurate, simple, fast results — unlike its competitors in search, which had become bloated "portals" — and quickly won the hearts first of Internet insiders and then of the broader public.

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